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Alex Nowrasteh joins us today to discuss the state of immigration in President Trump’s America.

Alex Nowrasteh joins us today to discuss the state of immigration in President Trump’s America.

Further Readings



00:06 Trevor Burrus: Welcome to Free Thoughts. I’m Trevor Burrus.

00:08 Aaron Powell: And I’m Aaron Powell.

00:09 Trevor Burrus: Joining us today is Alex Nowrasteh, Senior Immigration Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute. So, since Trump has taken office, and of course, he took office amidst discussing cracking down on immigration a bunch, what has he done that’s just an overview to crack down on immigration?

00:27 Alex Nowrasteh: Well, he’s done quite a bit administratively. The president does have quite a lot of power to reallocate federal law enforcement, and he’s done that. He’s ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which is the agency in charge of interior immigration enforcement to cooperate as much as possible with local police agencies to try to round up illegal immigrants who have been arrested. He has basically changed a lot of the rules so that basically, the federal agencies don’t have many restrictions and what they can do in terms of trying to apprehend illegal immigrants. Many of the Obama‐​era rules were taken away. And recently we’ve seen on the border, they put in place a no tolerance policy whereby anybody who illegally enter the United States will be automatically charged with that misdemeanor supposedly serve part of their sentences or just deported immediately, but then be labeled a convicted criminal to be deported from the United States, which means that they enter again, it’s a very serious offense.

01:33 Aaron Powell: So as Trevor said, he came into office having made all sorts of promises about cracking down on immigration, usually phrasing it as illegal, but we all knew he meant crackdown on all of it. Since he got started on this, has he done about what you’ve expected? Has there been anything that he’s done that was maybe more egregious, more hard line than you thought based on his campaign rhetoric?

01:55 Alex Nowrasteh: No, it actually took him a while for a lot of his promises to go into effect. It wasn’t until late 2017 when he cancelled the DACA program, which if you recall, was the program that President Obama put in place to temporarily legalize some illegal immigrants who were brought here as kids. So it took him a while to cancel that program. I was actually pleasantly surprised by that one. He has been completely ineffective at pushing through any laws in Congress that would permanently restrict legal immigration. If you recall his campaign promises, when you add ‘em all together, amounted to cutting illegal immigration by about 60%. The bills that were introduced to put this into effect usually would have cut it by 40%-50%. There have been numerous efforts at that, but none of those have gone anywhere, none, those have all failed.

02:44 Alex Nowrasteh: Administratively, the president has put in place a lot of restrictions on H-1B visas which are low‐​skilled temporary visas… I’m sorry, high‐​skilled temporary visas for people coming abroad to work here. So the numbers applying for those limited slots has declined, but they’re still hitting the cap every year. Student visas, the numbers are down about 20% year over year. So, he’s had an effect on foreigners entering the United States that’s negative, but in terms of any permanent damage, there hasn’t been much yet. There hasn’t been any yet because Congress hasn’t passed any laws.

03:20 Trevor Burrus: I think you had written about, or possibly our colleague Dave Beer, about the forms for just immigration forms, visa forms were just multiplied. But to double the amount of pages, is that because they’re running more background checks?

03:33 Aaron Powell: Just out of spite?

03:34 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, that’s the part of this is, how much are they trying to just make it more difficult for the purposes that they don’t really want even legal immigration?

03:43 Alex Nowrasteh: Sure. For a lot of these cases, they did increase the length of the forms for most visas. In some case, increased them by a factor of nine in terms of the number of pages you have to fill out. But each page or additional page on there is just a request for more evidence to support the visa claims made by these people. So it’s just like extra expenses, usually cost more money, and the biggest cost is lawyer fees for a lot of these folks, many of whom are not wealthy. But we haven’t seen much of a decline in terms of the numbers of people who wanna come to this country. It’s very difficult to come here legally on a green card and most of these visas. People who get there, they’re inelastic demand. So once they get there, they really, really want to go all the way. So the main effect of a lot of these rules, like you said, with the paperwork, is that immigrants just end up paying more money to lawyers.

04:37 Aaron Powell: So the big story in immigration recently was the child separation policy and the horrific videos and audio that we got out of that. In an encouraging fashion, it showed Americans… There was a line where Americans seemed to finally say, “This stuff you’re doing to poor immigrants is not acceptable.”

04:58 Trevor Burrus: Some Americans.

05:00 Aaron Powell: Some Americans.

05:01 Alex Nowrasteh: I think a majority.

05:02 Aaron Powell: But can you walk us through what was that policy? Where did it come from? Who was it affecting? And what role Trump played in it?

05:12 Alex Nowrasteh: So it’s actually a number of different policies that intersected into this catastrophe. I have to go back unfortunately to 2014 to talk about this. But in 2014, there was another big surge of unaccompanied alien children at the border, they were mainly from Central America.

05:29 Aaron Powell: Does this just mean kids coming across by themselves?

05:31 Alex Nowrasteh: Yes, yeah. Kids coming across by themselves. There are family units is the other term, which is where you have parents and children coming together. So you have a lot of these UACs as they’re called, unaccompanied alien children, coming across and then they were apprehended by the Obama administration and put into detention facilities, and it caused a huge uproar. I was actually in Texas when the story broke and it caused a huge uproar amongst Texas Republicans, but Republicans all over the country is saying that they would think this is a huge invasion. The President Obama’s policies have prompted this, he’s not hard enough on immigration. And the Obama administration responded by putting these kids into detention facilities by themselves or if they had other family who were illegal immigrants putting them all together in family detention.

06:21 Alex Nowrasteh: Now, the government’s limited in its power to do this for various legal reasons. It basically can’t hold kids in detention for a very long period of time before either reuniting them with family outside of prison inside of the United States or deporting them. Now, this problem spotted on a bit until 2017 and early 2018, the Trump administration saw a surge of more Central Americans coming up to the border. Now, most of them when they got to the border were asking for asylum, which is under US laws, where you have a well‐​founded fear of persecution if you get sent back home. What the Trump administration was doing was saying, “You can’t apply for asylum. We’re not even gonna allow you to apply for asylum, arguably breaking American law, but definitely traditions of allowing these people to ask.

07:10 Alex Nowrasteh: So you had this large camp of people who are Central American in Mexico right by the border who weren’t allowed to ask and the government said, “Come back next week, come back next month, we’ll process you then.” At the same time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was issuing rules changing what was necessary to claim asylum, limiting the ability of these folks to claim asylum. At the same time that this happened, of course, these folks know this, the Trump administration put into effect the policies that if you cross illegally, we will prosecute you for illegal entry into the United States. However, the loophole is, for the asylum seekers is, if they make it inside of the United States and then ask for asylum, the way it used to be is that they would be able to stay and that their claims will be adjudicated, because they’re Central American, you can’t deport them to Mexico ’cause they’re not Mexican. So you gotta send them all the way back to Central America, but since they made asylum claim, you have to go through the court process to see if it’s a legitimate claim.

08:09 Alex Nowrasteh: So what happened is, these folks were being stopped at the border from asking, the rules were changing, they realize this was their last shot to really get into the US ’cause who knows what the rules are gonna be tomorrow, they sneak in, surrender immediately, but by sneaking in they broke American law, the government then prosecutes them for the crime of breaking American law, often ignoring their asylum status, sending them back. And because they broke this law and one of them had kids with them, they will be sent to a federal prison, and the kids cannot be sent with them to federal prison. So it’s a long‐​winded [chuckle] story of how he got there, but it’s really a large sort of a cascading failure of many policies.

08:50 Aaron Powell: This increase in asylum seekers, how many of these people… I guess the question is, how many of these people are legitimately seeking asylum versus say, they would have been illegal immigrants anyway, but this is a better way to try to get in?

09:05 Alex Nowrasteh: It’s a great question. There’s good research by Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development that finds that from, I believe, it’s 2013 through 2017, the per capita murder rate in the countries where these folks come from is the number one best predictor of how many of them leave and when they leave to come to the United States. But there’s two points here you need to recognize, one is there is the being pushed out of your home country because of violence, but then there is the, where do you decide to go? So they could stop in Mexico, or they could go to Panama, other relatively peaceful countries in that part of the world, but a lot of them have family in the United States, some of them have been in the United States before and they know about the opportunities. So they’re probably being pushed out due to violence, but they’re being attracted to the United States because of the opportunities here, because of their family here. So it’s a bit of both.

10:00 Trevor Burrus: So all this seems like if someone could say together with this difficulty we’re having, this is why we need a wall, that if they’re sneaking across, as you mentioned, and then coming back and presenting themselves for asylum, that that’s a perfect example of why we need to be able to control the doors, so to speak, that they go into so we can process them accordingly. What would you respond to that?

10:21 Alex Nowrasteh: Well, I think the easiest and cheapest thing in that situation is to allow these folks to come up to the port of entry and to say, “I am claiming asylum and you can adjudicate my claim in the normal process that we did prior to Jeff Sessions clogging this up.” It’s a lot easier and cheaper than building a wall. It’s just to allow the normal asylum system to work.

10:42 Trevor Burrus: But that was part of the problem, too, is that if you want people to be here, I guess, it depends on which people you think should be here. And I’m not sure how many immigrants the Trump administration thinks should be here at all. But if bona fide asylum seekers should be here, but then 40% of them aren’t showing up for their court dates, ’cause that’s what they were doing before, correct? They would say, “Okay, you’re in the asylum docket or adjudication procedure and we’ll let you out of the United States until you come back to your court day.” But they just wouldn’t come back to their court day, which… Look, if I made a BS claim of asylum, as Aaron pointed out, and then just wanted to melt into American society…

11:20 Aaron Powell: Plus you’re probably part of MS-13.

11:23 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, and that seems like a good way of getting into the country.

11:25 Alex Nowrasteh: It’s a decent way. There have been lots of experiments over the years about what I call alternatives to detention programs, which is these folks come up, they ask for asylum, or other illegal immigrants, they have a particular claim that they try to make in court and what they do is they basically release them out of detention, but give them an ankle bracelet and assign case workers to follow up with them. And there have been lots of experiments with this over the years, but they basically get about a 90% success rate, meaning that not just that they show up to court, but that whatever the court says actually goes into effect.

12:01 Alex Nowrasteh: So if they say you have to leave, 90% of them comply with that order and most of them, 99% show up for their court hearing. So it’s a lot cheaper than holding them at detention, which the new estimates are that a family being held in detention should cost about $775 a day. These alternatives to detention cost about $17 a day on average.

12:26 Aaron Powell: So if I understand correctly though, the reason that they were separating the kids from their parents is because the parents were being sent to federal prison and you can’t have kids in federal prison. So what’s so bad about that? It seems like yeah, federal prison is not a great place for a kid and so we need to put them somewhere. Why does everyone get so upset?

12:48 Alex Nowrasteh: So that’s a great point. The upsetting point, I think, is that, one, that they have to be separated in the first place based on this no tolerance policy of charging everybody with this federal misdemeanor for crossing the border illegally. They used to not do that. It used to be up to discretion, “Do we charge this person with the misdemeanor or not?” So doing that necessitates the separation, and I think that’s the root of the problem is like, “Why do we need to do this in the first place?” These people aren’t violent and property criminals, there’s very little evidence that many of them are and those who are, are separated. Nobody really complains about that.

13:28 Trevor Burrus: I’ve heard you say before, and I’d agree that the immigration policy of Ellis Island in 1880 is a pretty good way of doing it, but if it was in Ellis Island in 1880 and some family presented themselves off of a boat and the dad had a bunch of prison tattoos or something, what would they have done at Ellis Island? Was there a detention facility there? They would have put them in and maybe separated the kids and then get them on a boat and to take them away from, is that what they would have done at that time?

13:58 Alex Nowrasteh: So if somebody was inadmissible under the law in 1880 and under the law at that time you were inadmissible if they knew you were a violent property offender or if you were obviously insane based on their standards at the time, or ill like ill. If you were ill, they put you in a temporary holding to see if you got better or not, if you didn’t get better then they’d send you back. And under the laws of the time, if the steamship companies sent you over, they would be responsible for sending you back, which is like a filter on the other end to try to incentivize that. But let’s say you’re part of a family, you’ve got kids, and a daughter and a wife, but the father’s a criminal. The father would be forced to go back, the kids however and mother had the chance to stay in the United States if they wanted to. Ellis Island actually opened in 1890, and the first person to go through it was an unaccompanied alien child who was coming here by herself. She was, I believe, 11 years old coming to meet her family who had come prior to that to get set up.

14:57 Trevor Burrus: Now in terms of so‐​called internal enforcement, we hear a lot of stories about raids on businesses and crops going bad in the fields and just a lot more crackdown internally. Is that worse? ‘Cause I think that they’ve always had some amount of immigration crackdown internally. You could have been raided by ICE at different times if you ran businesses that are suspect. I know it happened one time in Colorado to a business that my friend worked at. So is it worse now? Or are we just seeing it more ’cause everyone’s talking about immigration and people weren’t filming and writing about it so much during the Obama administration?

15:36 Alex Nowrasteh: We are seeing it more because of what you said. And Obama did a lot of interior enforcement in the United States, people don’t recognize this. He basically brought the deportation records for any president especially during his first term, but he wasn’t really proud of it and he didn’t talk about it a whole lot. This president, however, is very proud of interior enforcement, he talks about it all the time. And part of the strategy now is to scare unauthorized immigrants, to scare illegal immigrants, to scare businesses as a deterrent. So we do see an increase in interior enforcement over the last years of the Obama administration and we see more raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, more I-9 audits more e‐​verified checks, but it’s not too different from the first term of the Obama administration frankly, it takes a long time to build these things up.

16:26 Alex Nowrasteh: And Trump doesn’t have one of the big benefits that Obama had, which was that every state in the United States cooperated with Obama and his interior immigration enforcement policy for the first three or four years. While now, a bunch of states, a bunch of state law enforcement agencies, state governments have passed laws limiting their cooperation with the federal government under Trump’s era. So I think it’s likely that Trump will never get up to the levels of deportation that occurred under President Obama just because so much of the country is not cooperating with him.

17:00 Aaron Powell: What’s Jeff Sessions’ motivation in all of this? Whenever Trump does anything, the left, or even the center‐​left, they seem to say, “Well, this is motivated by racism,” or it’s motivated by, on the softer side, something like a semi‐​racist nationalism. Do you think that’s what’s going on here?

17:29 Alex Nowrasteh: It’s hard to read. Of course, I can’t read the minds of these folks, I can only go off of what they say their justification is. The main person is definitely Jeff Sessions and he’s written and spoken for decades about the need to cut all immigration, legal and otherwise, into the United States and he usually uses the economic argument. He says there’s low‐​skilled Americans, they aren’t doing very well here, we need to cut low‐​skilled immigration to help them out. And then he veers into, “They’re all terrorists and they’re gonna kill us.” And then he goes to, “They’re all criminals. Look at me, I’m a law enforcement agent or I have a background in this. I wanna enforce the law and I wanna stop that.” But that’s like more of an old school argument.

18:15 Alex Nowrasteh: The newer folks in there like Stephen Miller who’s an advisor and speech writer to the president, he is animated by nationalism. He says this frequently, he says, “The United States, we need to build a national homogeneous population by limiting immigration, by tinkering and central planning the population so that we’re all basically, look the same, sound the same, are the same, this will increase solidarity. And then magical things are supposed to happen in terms of nationals and magical awesome, beautiful things were supposed to happen.” And that’s his major motivation for cutting down or arguing for cutting down on immigration.

18:51 Aaron Powell: That argument always struck me as weird. [chuckle] In a lot of ways, partly ’cause I’m a nationalist but that idea that we should… That the people who are making that argument. Stephen Miller, and then the really virulently anti‐​immigration people in Trump’s base. The ones who wanna stop all non‐​Americans from coming in. If America had a modernized culture, if it had… We were to say like, what is America? And that’s the culture we’re gonna have, and we’ll kick out everyone who doesn’t agree with it, we’d be kicking those people out. They don’t… They’re not even remotely representative of America or American values on… You can get polling data on that, you can look at sheer population numbers. And so do they, I guess, do they understand that if that was what we were gonna go for, it’s not like America would end up looking like their little towns?

19:45 Alex Nowrasteh: So this gets into, there is the phrase ‘Nation building” comes from early 20th and late 19th century nationalists. They realized that their idea of this population does not exist, they realized this in every country in Europe and in the United States. So they needed to construct it. They had essentially planned this. So this is an aspirational argument on their part rather than a return to what was in the past. They of course, all make up a mythology or myths of the past to try to justify this sort of silly arguments that they… Justify the silly goal of theirs. But it’s always aspirational they’re moving forward, they’re trying to create this thing that does not exist and they wanna make it powerful. I also think it’s quite odd in their mind. I’ve asked some people who support this, who write at National Review and other places. How does splitting apart American families, ’cause a lot of these illegal immigrants or other immigrants are married or related to Americans, how does splitting them apart with the police, forcibly removing them saying you’re doing it for nationalism increase national solidarity?

20:54 Alex Nowrasteh: I think it does the exact opposite actually. And sorry, just one more thing. Aristide Zolberg, who was a historian, a late historian who wrote about nationalism, but also refugees and immigration described nationalism as a refugee creating process. And what he meant by that was that countries in an attempt to become homogeneous, there are couple of options open to them. One is education and a symbolation in that way. The other way is to kick people out and achieve homogeneity by kicking out everybody who doesn’t fit into this specific definition of groups. The third one, of course is genocide. So the first two, this forced assimilation and the refugee creation process was very, very popular up until about the 1920’s when every country in the world closed its borders. And then I think it’s no coincidence that after then many engaged in genocide and the other more brutal methods to try to create this nationalist utopia. Not all nationalists are like that of course, but those are the methods that are available to them.

21:55 Trevor Burrus: Yeah, discussing the breaking up of families. You’ve heard these stories too, about specific, often specific stories like some dad for 40 years who was illegal and has three kids, and a dentist or something like that who’s getting kicked out. We probably don’t have good enough numbers on it. But did that kind of stuff happen before Trump? With just the zero tolerance of just giving someone a break for being 40 years a good citizen, or are we just again, hearing about those more and more?

22:25 Alex Nowrasteh: So, it’s more… If you fall into the hands of the government now, it’s much more likely that you will be deported. In the past though they cast a much wider net, captured many more people. So you heard more stories of instances like that. Just because they caught many more people, so they deported a lot more, so a lot of people caught up in that. Now, however you have fewer of those individual tales, fewer people getting arrested on like a traffic violation, something, not even drunk driving but like turning without a signal, many fewer of these people who are being deported, but when they happen, we’re paying more attention to them ’cause there’s zero leeway. It was for a time that if you were apprehended by ICE during the Obama and Bush years, and you were, you’re like this type of person, you’ve been here for a long time, you’re not a criminal. Then what you had to do was basically check in with ICE every six months. Go to these appointments, make sure that you weren’t being a criminal, and as long as you did that they wouldn’t deport you. You’d be way low on the list of priorities. Now the government is apprehending those people when they show up to their check‐​ins and deporting them even if they haven’t done anything additional to earn that deportation.

23:33 Trevor Burrus: I’d like to ask about rhetoric, especially the words open borders and amnesty. When I watch Fox News occasionally, sometimes when I’m home with my parents or something, I’m astounded by how everyone who on Fox, and then increasingly, just on the right uses the term open borders to describe: A, our current immigration system, or B, the beliefs of the people who are not for Trump’s system. They just sit with these open border Democrats, these are all for open border people, and amnesty functions in a similar type of fashion that there are two types to be brought there. People who want to control the border and people who don’t give a crap, essentially. How bad is that kind of rhetoric and mistaken is it, do you think, in terms of where the immigration debate actually is? Because, if I remember correctly, I can pull up clips of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton talking about the need to crack down on illegal immigration just seven years ago, but now apparently they don’t believe in borders, just the nature of political discussion, I guess.

24:29 Aaron Powell: If only they didn’t believe in borders.


24:32 Alex Nowrasteh: Then you guys have to get rid of me.


24:35 Alex Nowrasteh: There is probably not a single person in Capitol Hill whose immigration position could be fairly described as open borders. Even the latest iteration of this is the Abolish ICE movement. We have a lot of protests about this. The people who have talking about Abolish ICE who are on Capitol Hill, like Senator Warren and others, their proposals were not even Abolish ICE. The proposals are basically to reform it a little bit or make it more humane, or to create a commission to investigate how to make it more humane. These are not the actions of people who are supporters of open borders. These are not the Bryan [chuckle] Caplan’s of the world who are writing or pushing for this kind of policy.

25:15 Alex Nowrasteh: So, it’s just mindless rhetoric on their part, the people who say the Democrats are some open borders party. Bernie Sanders said famously that open borders was a, “Koch Brothers conspiracy” to try to overwhelm the United States. Now, I do think, though, intellectually, there is a growing number of left‐​wing intellectuals, people like Matt Yglesias, Ezra Klein, lots of others, who are in favor of open borders, have said so explicitly. Libertarians have been there for a little while…

25:52 Trevor Burrus: Most, Mini Libertarians, not all.

25:52 Alex Nowrasteh: Mini Libertarians. No. But I think it’s been a much more accepted part of the debate amongst Libertarians about open borders or immigration…

26:00 Aaron Powell: What specifically do we mean by open borders?

26:03 Alex Nowrasteh: So I think they mean… It depends on the person you talk to, but in terms of Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein, what they’ll basically talk about is people who are not criminals, who are not national security threats and who are reasonably healthy, should be able to come here to live, work, and eventually become citizens.

26:17 Trevor Burrus: So, Ellis Island is kind of, we said.

26:20 Alex Nowrasteh: Pretty much. In Ellis Island between 1875 and 1882, before the Chinese Exclusion Act but after criminals were barred, policy going back to that very lightly regulated, relatively open system. And that’s what I think most Libertarians who support this, support that kind of move toward that, and most of the left‐​wingers who support this, support that kind of move.

26:42 Alex Nowrasteh: But we’re talking about a fraction of a percent here of people who probably profess to believe in this type of thing. And I will bet there’s probably 10 to 20 times as many people who believe that’s the policy we have right now, than actually want that policy to be in effect. I spend a lot of time speaking in places like Arizona, get invited to speak to mostly hostile audiences about the topic of immigration. And one time I explained how complicated… How we should legalize current illegal immigrants, and this very nice, old woman came up to me afterwards and said, “You know, I understand your arguments, but why don’t they just go down to the post office and register and become legal?”

27:24 Alex Nowrasteh: And I could imagine that if that’s how you thought the system worked, you would say, “What do these people have to hide? Why should we legalize them? They are all a bunch of criminals.” So I think the number one thing that people like myself and others can do to try to convince the population to be more in favor of immigration, is just to explain how darn hard [chuckle] it is to come here in the first place.

27:45 Aaron Powell: But how much of that ignorance or that claim that just go down to the post office is pretextual? So you said, Jeff Sessions, when he’s saying we need to clamp down on immigration, keeps changing his story. Right? So it’s the economic argument, but the economic argument has been utterly discredited. And so then it’s a law and order, and then it’s a terrorism. And so how much of the anti, I guess, opposition to liberalize immigration is because people don’t understand how the current system works, or buy in to the economic, and how much of it is them just these are answers that they’re fishing for or arguments that they’re fishing for that they’re advancing because… But they’re gonna accept any argument because underlying, they simply don’t want immigrants, either for nationalism reasons or because they talk funny, or something like that. So you could say, “No, look here, it takes years and years, and here is all the forms you have to fill out.” And they’ll be like, “Well in that case, I think maybe they’re all terrorists.”

28:41 Alex Nowrasteh: So that’s a great question. There are, no doubt, a lot of people, no matter what the evidence was, they’d always be in favor of having closed borders, no matter what. But in terms of, most people I think who identify with the Donald Trump or Jeff Sessions closed border position, I think it’s a combination of ignorance about how the current laws work, and the perception that immigration is chaotic, that there’s absolute madness and chaos in the border, and when people see chaos in a particular area of life, almost none of them, with the exception of Libertarians, want [chuckle] fewer restrictions, want to deregulate that, wanna pull back the hand of the State. The reaction is almost always clamp down more, more law enforcement, more control, more of this.

29:25 Alex Nowrasteh: There is a wonderful recent paper of this called the Locus of Control. It’s a part of a political psychology literature where the authors take a look at the opinions in the US, Canada, and United Kingdom, about immigration, and then links it with perceptions of chaos in the border, societal chaos related to immigration, how much control you think your government and you have over the system. And it turns out that the perception that the government has this under control, that it’s A okay, is very highly linked with support for liberalizing the system. But people who think it’s chaotic, that it’s madness, it’s a wild west, it’s whatever. Just cats and dogs, mating, rain, nonsense in there.


30:06 Trevor Burrus: Living together.

30:06 Alex Nowrasteh: Living together. [laughter] Dogs and cats raining. And I don’t know where I was going with that.

30:10 Trevor Burrus: That’s the Ghostbusters’ line. “Cats and dogs living together.” It’ll be anarchy, yeah.

30:14 Alex Nowrasteh: The perception that it’s like anarchy makes people really, really want more state control and more restriction, but that’s just not what’s going on on the ground.

30:22 Aaron Powell: That was gonna be my final question is how much chaos is there on the border?

30:25 Alex Nowrasteh: Very little. In the year 2000, there were about 1.65 million arrests of illegal immigrants coming into the United States. Last year there were about 303,000 along the US border. So you’re talking about a massive decline, an over 80%. About an 80% decline in terms of the number of people coming across who are being apprehended. And the border patrol is multiple times, multiples higher, and larger than it used to be. So the chaos is down, the crime rates in all the border cities are way down from what they were 18 years ago, and continue to go down. It’s just that part of the problem is having more enforcement, having more government agents there on the border. And in some places having a wall, means that every little thing somebody does that’s illegal gets recorded. Every little thing that happens is seen as sake, see told you, chaos. Whereas if there were half as many border patrol agents down there, and it was a lot easier to come into the United States legally, it would seem a lot more controlled.

31:30 Trevor Burrus: Would it be desirable to build a wall for two reasons? One, it seems that if we legalize or liberalize immigration just into the point that we would want it to. But it would still, under any immigration system, it would be desirable to cut down on illegal immigration and have it be zero, and a wall could help that. And also maybe it’s desirable to build a wall as a concession. If it makes people feel like it’s control, ’cause the wall is a big symbol, just Game Of Thrones. The wall is a symbol of control and force. Even if they’re wrong about that. That maybe we say, “Okay, let’s build a wall as long as we actually liberalize the immigration system and make it the way you already think it is.”

32:11 Alex Nowrasteh: So, I used to think that. I used to think that building a wall would make people feel more secure. I don’t think that anymore because every wall would have cameras mounted on top. Anybody trying to scale that wall would be recorded, [chuckle] pictures would be taken, border patrol would run up there. And I think it could actually increase the perception of chaos. Because you would know, there would be a sensor tripping every time people try to do that. And people would dig tunnels, more tunnels, to get into the US. Tunnels are scary. You see these pictures people are taking, it’s like dark and gloomy and there’s railroad tracks and it’s like da da da, like scary music going through. That does look kind of scary. So you’d have more of that to get around it. And I think that that would have the opposite result. People would say we’re recording every bad thing that happens now and it is so bad, it is so chaotic, even though the numbers are down by like 90%.

33:04 Trevor Burrus: Now, what about MS-13? Aaron mentioned them previously. And we have heard stories, that I think are correct, of some high schools and there’s one in Virginia I believe that is having a huge problem with them as their teen. That they’re not a non‐​concern and many of them are El Salvadorian illegal immigrants from… So is this something that we should be focusing on to some degree?

33:27 Alex Nowrasteh: Yeah, I live in Fairfax County where it’s like the MS-13 capital of the United States [chuckle] supposedly, or one of them. The percentage of people coming across who are identified as MS-13 members is less than 1/​10th of 1% of those people who have been apprehended or gone through any of this child migration system. So it’s a very, very small issue. Government counting of gangs and gang membership in the US is just very poor, very fraught with a lot of problems. Once you basically get on one of these gangs lists, you can never get off and there’s no due process for getting on it. So the numbers there are really bad, but they estimate that there’s about 10,000 MS-13 members, has been stable for many years on this. And some of them do commit very brutal crimes. Now we don’t have good evidence of this, but according to the FBI, about 85% of murder victims are murdered by people who know them very well. And a lot of these people who are being murdered by MS-13 are either, unfortunately, other illegal immigrants who are being abused and exploited by them, or other gang members. And a lot of this gang turf.

34:36 Alex Nowrasteh: So that’s one thing to realize. I have an acquaintance who is a prosecutor in Fairfax County. And he was telling me once over a couple of beers, “Listen, we’re having a real hard time prosecuting and getting juries to convict these MS-13 guys.” And I’m thinking conspiratorially right, like law and order. I’m like, “Oh is it because they’re threatening the jury?” He goes, “No, let me give you an example.” He goes, “If we have an MS-13 member who’s killed three people. The jury is like, Oh man, that’s terrible. Three murders but then the three people murdered are also MS-13 members.” So the juries are like, “Yeah, you know, it’s all even. Let them kill each other. Who cares?” And that’s actually one of [chuckle] the more interesting… And that’s something that if you dig back into the problems with the Italian Mafia, was also the problem with convicting a lot of them. It’s like we care if they kill somebody like Kate Steinle who was killed in San Francisco, right? By an illegal immigrant. We care about that a lot, but we don’t necessarily care if another illegal immigrant or a gay member are the victims. And that’s what it was like in early 20th century, that seems to be what it is today. Americans are like, “Eh, it takes care of itself.”

35:49 Aaron Powell: There have been violent street gangs in America for quite a long time, there have been violent street gangs in America with ties to or originating from Central and South America for a long time. So why is MS-13 the scary thing? Is there something different about them, or is there reason to be more scared of them, or is it just a convenient name that we can use to encapsulate all the fears that people have, or is it just their tattoos?


36:23 Alex Nowrasteh: So interesting about MS-13, it started in Los Angeles. And then they were arrested, put in the prison system, many of them. Some of them were illegal immigrants, and then they got deported to El Salvador, where they started this gang down there. I think part of the fear is, they’ve had a lot of success, in especially El Salvador but also Honduras, Guatemala, and other countries in setting up operations that have destabilized a lot of local security situation, that have out‐​competed the government in supplying protection, but also just being a terrorizing force that the government cannot control down there, cannot eradicate. So they’re the scary transnational criminal organization. They’re involved in some drug trafficking, but it’s mainly like other crimes. A lot of racketeering, a lot of theft, a lot of normal criminal enterprise stuff like… Not that interesting. They’re involved in drugs, of course, but it’s not what they do the best out of these other groups. They’re also super brutal. A lot of these gangs are like… Especially when they’re getting started, and they’re up against much larger gangs, they compensate by using more vicious force.

37:39 Alex Nowrasteh: So they’re known for using machetes to hack people to death, to stab people to death like that. And they do do a lot of face tattoos, [chuckle] partly to make people who are members of the gang… Make it so that they can’t ever leave, they have no other options. So it’s like a total commitment to the enterprise. So, all of this combined, a failing society is where they’re mainly based, a lot of criminal opportunities in the US and elsewhere. Transnational criminal sounds super scary, as well as the brutality and commitment of it’s members to the organization, I think makes them more scary. But there really aren’t that many murders committed by them in the United States. It’s a very small threat compared to the general number or percentage of people who get murdered.

38:22 Trevor Burrus: Over the course of the Trump administration and people’s fears about anti‐​immigrant fervor, and whether it’s the video of the guy in the New York deli and all these people being mean to immigrants. The guy who was talking about speak English. And it seems to a lot of people that there’s this just beating drum of anti‐​immigrant fervor, which may or may not be true, but if that’s true, now how does it fit in new American history? How does this era of immigration and force… So we discussed how Obama deported an unbelievable amount of people, and maybe Trump won’t even be able to deport. So, sometimes you have a story that no one’s talking about, but now you have the story everyone is talking about. But in general, historically, how have Americans treated immigrants?

39:08 Alex Nowrasteh: So in terms of the social, the private social interactions, we’re doing pretty well compared to historically. There were numerous riots in the 1830s, 40s, 50s. Up to the 1890s there were anti‐​immigrant, where there were lynchings of immigrants. Largest mass lynching in American history, was in I believe is 1890 in New Orleans, when a large number of Italian immigrants were lynched. There were massacres of Chinese immigrants in Wyoming and out west during the 1880s and 1890s. It’s really brutal stuff. John Hughes, who was the Catholic Archbishop of New York from, I believe, it was 1838 to 1864, it got so bad that he threatened that if a single Catholic church was burned in New York, the city would be turned into a second Moscow. A reference to Napoleon or Moscow being burned to the ground during the Napoleonic Wars. So, in terms of the private… And there’s nothing like that going on today. There might be the occasional hate crime against somebody because they’re [chuckle] an immigrant or because they’re foreign‐​born or because they have an accent, but it’s very rare. A few and far between. Basically the worst we get is a lot of people being mean to immigrants, like in these videos.

40:20 Alex Nowrasteh: Now, almost all the violence done is done by the federal government and some state governments in cooperation with the federal government against these folks. But I think that the peak in terms of immigration enforcement done by the government was during the Obama years, both in terms of the numbers deported, in terms of the percentage of the illegal immigrant population deported annually, in terms of the brutality, in terms of the percentage of the governments in the US, the local and state governments getting involved. I do not see us ever going back to anything remotely resembling what ruled in this country from 2009 to 2012.

40:58 Aaron Powell: And that was under Democrats. So, do you think… Right now there’s a lot of rhetoric in this country, not just horror at what happened with the children separated from their parents, but there’s a lot of rhetoric, especially among the left, of like, “This runs counter to our values. We are a country that is accepting of immigrants.” The Abolish ICE. Maybe when it’s said by Elizabeth Warren doesn’t really mean much, but when it’s said by lots of people who aren’t Elizabeth Warren, they mean Abolish ICE. Do you think then, that when the Democrats win back Congress or eventually the presidency, that we will see that, I guess, this attitude will continue, and that we will see the Democrats embrace a liberalized, more humane immigration system. Or do you think that when they’re back in control, they’ll fall back on the Obama years style?

41:49 Alex Nowrasteh: So I think it’s a permanent or at least a long run change in the Democratic Party, and how liberals view the issue of immigration. You saw it transforming during Obama’s Administration actually. So by 2012, Democrats… If you go back to 2006, Democrats, Republicans had about the same opinion of what should be done about immigration. Both were pretty negative, about 35%. 30% to 40% of them said that immigration was good for the country. Fast forward 2016, 80% of Democrats say immigration’s good. Republicans haven’t gotten worse, they’re still 35% to 40% say it’s good. So, you saw a transformation during the Obama years, and you saw it with him sort of lax… Relax in enforcement beginning around 2011, 2012, doing the DACA program, trying to do the DAPA program, which was a more expansive legalization. And the support in the immigration reform effort in 2013, which would’ve been quite a liberalizing law. So, you saw him transform during his administration. I think his transformation mirrors a lot of what was going on and why they’re Democrats. So now that you have Democrats… And now you have the Republicans in power taking the exact opposite hard line approach, you have, I think, what was the natural push amongst liberals was to be more pro‐​immigration, get accelerated to the partisanship.

43:07 Alex Nowrasteh: So, I don’t think Democrats come back from this. I think that they view this as an issue that they are going to be at the core of their beliefs, going forward. The old democratic consensus evolved… Involved a lot of labor unions. And labor unions are dying in this country. I think they’re replacing it with immigrant rights, immigrant justice. And viewing this as a large population that is legitimately victimized by the federal government now that this has the potential to be another sort of a human rights campaign or civil rights movement on the lines of at least gay marriage issue, but probably something more like what happened with the ending of segregation. And that might sound hyperbolic to people, but the laws that are in place right now say that it is illegal for you to hire an illegal immigrant.


44:00 Alex Nowrasteh: It is illegal for you to deal with them. It is illegal for you to interact with them in a whole host of different ways. So the laws are bad, in terms of this. They are comparable to many of the laws that exist in this country under segregation that were targeting blacks. And this is a population where you have dreamers, you have people who speak English who have been raised here, who are very sympathetic, and I don’t think that’s gonna go away. I think that’s gonna build and build, and it’s gonna be part of the Democratic Party for a while.


44:32 Speaker 4: Free Thoughts is produced by Tess Terrible. If you enjoyed today’s show, please rate and review us on iTunes, and if you’d like to learn more about Libertarianism, find us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.