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Alex Nowrasteh joins us this week to talk about immigration in the wake of Donald Trump’s contentious executive order.

Aaron Ross Powell
Director and Editor
Trevor Burrus
Research Fellow, Constitutional Studies

Alex Nowrasteh is the immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

Matthew Feeney is the director of Cato’s Project on Emerging Technologies, where he works on issues concerning the intersection of new technologies and civil liberties. . Before coming to Cato, Matthew worked at Reason magazine as assistant editor of Rea​son​.com. He has also worked at The American Conservative, the Liberal Democrats, and the Institute of Economic Affairs. Matthew is a dual British/​American citizen and received both his B.A and M.A in philosophy from the University of Reading in England.

Alex Nowrasteh joins us this week to talk about immigration in the wake of Donald Trump’s contentious executive order on the subject. Is immigration always good for a country?

In this episode, we discuss economic arguments for and against immigration, the rate at which immigrants culturally and politically assimilate in the United States, and the real odds of a successful terrorist attack carried out by immigrants or refugees.

Show Notes and Further Reading

For a deeper understanding of Trump’s executive order restricting permanent immigration from seven majority‐​Muslim countries, we recommend this Vox article by Dara Lind and this New York Times op‐​ed by David Bier.

Trevor mentions this Free Thoughts episode with John Mueller and Mark G. Stewart on the real risks of terrorism, and listeners may also be interested in the first episode we did on immigration with Alex Nowrasteh; it’s about the history of immigration in the US and the various laws governing it.



- Welcome to Free Thoughts from Lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org and the Cato Institute. I’m Trevor Burrus.

- And I’m Matthew Feeney.

- Joining us today is Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. Welcome back to Free Thoughts, Alex.

- Thanks, Trevor.

- How are immigrants destroying America?

- There are lots of ways immigrants are supposedly destroying America according to the critics who like to talk about it. There are the economic ways, they’re taking our jobs. That’s the most common one that you hear. The other way is that they’re not assimilating, so culturally, they’re gonna take over or undermine American values. They’re gonna all gonna build for a bunch of socialists. And destroy free markets and as a result, we’re gonna be like North Korea because of immigrants. They’re gonna commit crimes and murder us all. In the inner cities especially. They are terrorists, they’re gonna destroy and blow us up. There are lots of ways in which people claim that immigrants are undermining, destroying America, but all those ways I just mentioned, the facts are not supportive of their claims. Immigrants are almost entirely and generally across the board a positive force for america and all of those issues that I mentioned, they are less crime prone than Americans. They add to the economy. They don’t have systematically different opinions about public policy that will undermine our system. The terrorism threat is a real one, but it’s the small one. So the criticisms are just they are common stereotypes, but there’s almost no evidence to support them.

- So is it a lot to unpack this? Let’s start with one of the claims you mentioned which is that they take jobs or wages. So, common criticism might be, well, if I’m an employer and I could hire an American, at nine dollars an hour and I can visit inflow of people who are willing to work for much less, that would put a lot of Americans out of work because the incentive is for the employer to hire cheap labor.

- The people who use that argument usually say, supply and demand says if you have a big increase of supply, then you’re gonna have wages fall. But then they always figure about the demand part, which is that immigrants are people, they buy things, and the things that they buy, the services they buy, the money that they spend, et cetera, increases demand and boosts the number of jobs that can be supported in a local area. So what you see is in a place where immigrants move. Immigrants move to productive, fast growing areas and after they go there, the areas grow a little bit faster. And wages do a little bit better. Now, the most well known critic of integration economics is George Borjas, Harvard Professor George Borjas, But if you read his work, and he will admit this, he doesn’t hide this. The negative wage effects are concentrated on Americans with less than a high school degree. But every other category of Americans see small wage increases due to immigration, because these immigrants are different than other Americans. They have different skills, they don’t compete against them, so that the net results is that Americans make more money, on total have higher wages because of immigration than lower wages.

- Isn’t the speed part of this, so if we have an open border, if we have no restrictions on immigration, and we get a huge amount of people who just would say, 100,000 Mexicans arrive in Bismarck, North Dakota and, I mean, I think that the assumption is that a lot of people would leave and come to America if they could, so barring just travel times, they would be here. So if 100,000 people arrived in Bismarck, North Dakota, that would certainly create a problem for workers in Bismarck, North Dakota for some period of time.

- Yeah, absolutely. And there’s a lot of evidence about this. One of the best pieces is the Mariel boatlift in Miami in 1980. What happened is, Castro sort of all of a sudden and unexpectedly allowed Cubans to take off from the port of Mariel to be picked up in boats and to be brought to Miami. And in the course of a few months, 125,000 people did that. Went into Miami, which increased the size of the labor market by seven percent. Now these workers are overwhelmingly had less than a high school degree and they entered the Miami labor market without any kind of warning and importantly, they didn’t have a choice where to go. They were sort of dropped off there. So it was a natural experiment that allows us to take a look at the actual facts. Because, as I said before, immigrants usually choose where to go or they go to high growing areas. So how do you really disentangle the effect of immigration on the wages of the locals from just what the economy was gonna do otherwise. But this natural experiment helps us get around that. George Borjas again, did a nice recent paper where he took a look at this and he found that the wages for American men dropped pretty dramatically after. American men who are high school dropouts dropped dramatically after the Mariel boatlift. And it recovered about eight or nine years later to what they would be in other cities. But what’s fascinating is the wages for Americans with only a high school degree in Miami, which is the next level up, actually increased substantially right after the Mariel boatlift folks arrived. It increased compared to other cities that were similar to Miami before that. To such an extent that the actual net wage gain for or the net wage impact for workers with a high school degree or less who were Americans was positive.

- So that very point leads me on to the second question, which is to be spoken about wages, but there’s also concerns some people have about the influence or the effect that immigration has on the government coffers. That immigrants come here and are consumers of government goods. So roads and schools. Are immigrants a net contributor fiscally? Or are they a drain on the quote, welfare state?

- So it’s very difficult to try to figure out the effect of people on the fiscal state of the government individually, or as a small groups. Because the way the government benefits are structured and taxes are structured. So when you’re a young person, a kid, between the ages of about zero and 22 or 23, you’re not gonna be paying very much in taxes. You’re a consumer, a huge net consumer of government benefits in public schools, to welfare, et cetera. However, between the age of about 22 and 65, you’re supposed to be a net tax payer. You’re supposed to pay a lot in taxes to make up for what you consumed as a child, but also to sock away money into social security and into medicare, into other types of programs for when you retire. And then after the age of 65, people become a huge net user again of welfare benefits. Now we know it doesn’t really work out very well. The government has a lot of problems with its long‐​term debt, totally unsustainable. So trying to fit an immigrant into that, it’s interesting, most immigrants come in their early 20s, late teens through early 20s. So you automatically skip that first 18 year period of their life when they’re always in public schools. And public school costs between about 10 to $30,000 per student per year, depending how you count it. So that and if they graduated high school, that’s somewhere between 120 and $360,000 of public savings just from that. Not to mention welfare or anything else. So they, the immigrant comes through the age of 19, we automatically save all that money. He starts paying taxes by working here in the U.S. economy and they’re a fairly net positive going forward. However, a lot of them are lower skilled and they don’t make a lot of money, so that also kind of makes up for it and a good amount of retire back in their home country. So that’s sort of the way it works. When you take a look at all the different models and the peer‐​reviewed papers and the groups that try to measure the net fiscal impact on immigration, the general consensus is they about pay for themselves. The long‐​term fiscal cost of a marginal migrant is about zero.

- But, do they really, if they’re coming here for say, temporary amount of time, and then sending a lot of money back and also do they really pay as many taxes, they hide money in terms of not paying taxes into the Federal government. And of course, we have to remember Milton Friedman’s invocation that a welfare state with open borders is a crazy idea if the American taxpayer is going to be paying for people to live off their largess.

- So, illegal immigrants are primarily the ones who commit tax fraud, like they don’t pay taxes.

- You said legal or illegal?

- Illegal, illegal. So what’s interesting though is between about 55 and 75%, based on the expense of the legal immigrants either file tax returns or have money taken out of their paychecks for tax reasons. But the problem, well the issue is though, is that most of these illegal immigrants are low skilled people anyway. They would not pay that much in taxes or zero taxes on the Federal level because their income is so low in our progressive tax system. And a lot of them, would actually get back like a net increase in terms of their earned income tax credit, or child tax credit. So they would actually be paid a net if they actually all paid their taxes. So the better thing would be for low skilled illegal immigrants to not file their taxes at all, and the fiscal benefits would be even better because there’s some scamming that goes on, of course, for EITC, they’re not technically eligible, but the government can’t control all of that. But on the Milton Friedman point, about how open immigration is good so long it’s not to a welfare state, the second part of that quote that usually gets dropped off is when he says, “That’s why he supports illegal immigration.” because illegal immigrants don’t have access to the welfare state, which is how it is under current law in the United States. With the exception of emergency medical care at a hospital, illegal immigrants do not have recourse to means‐​tested welfare benefits. Now of course, there’s some people who scam it, but Obama’s Justice Department in 2014, actually sued the state of Pennsylvania for accidentally giving welfare benefits to illegal immigrants and got that money back and won. So if the Obama Justice Department does it, then we know that the government does take a pretty good look at that. But even when immigrants are eligible for means‐​tested welfare benefits, you can take a look at their consumption rates and the percentage of them who, and the amount of money that they do consume when they get these benefits. And what we find is that immigrants are much less likely to consume these benefits than native born Americans. When we take a look at poor people. So much so that if the native born poor people in the United States used Medicaid at the same rate, and the same dollar value as native born poor people did, I’m sorry, as a legal, as immigrants do, then the program would be 42% smaller. And the kicker is that immigrants have better healthcare outcomes than natives.

- So you mention of illegal immigration reminded me of something I often hear, which is, okay, well, the economic arguments are sound, but I’m pro legal immigration and anti illegal immigration. This is a common refrain of people who will say, I’m pro immigration, I just want there to be some sort of system. And given that there are I think, something like 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States, what is the Alex Nowrasteh solution to not only the current states of undocumented migrants inside the country, but dealing with the number of people that want to flood into the country supposedly illegally.

- And also just to add to that, isn’t 11 million illegal people in the country a per say problem? I mean, these are million law breakers who were largely either not punishing or in the case of DACA and DAPA, somewhat forgiving. Forgiving their previous law breaking. That seems to be a per say problem.

- The reason why illegal immigrants come illegally is because they can’t come legally. And virtually all these people who do come in are people that we wouldn’t want to exclude for other reasons. Like they would hurt Americans, be criminals, terrorists, or health threats or anything like that. It’s just that there is no visa category that exists for the vast majority that are coming in enter lawfully. Now, if some of them do come in and let’s say they fall in love with America and they get married, that’s usually a way for somebody to come to the United States pretty easily on a green card, but other portions of American law make it impossible for them to adjust their status. Because it would require them to leave and go to an embassy, but once they leave, after they’ve been here illegally, they’re barred from coming back to the U.S. for any reason for three to 10 years, based on the length of stay in the United States. There’s a lot of catch 22s like this in the law.

- Even vacation?

- Any reason.

- Any reason whatsoever.

- There’s no, oh yeah, there’s no reason that they could come back legally. There are the occasional waivers that the government can grant for certain circumstances, but they’re rarely granted. So the problem is not that we have a bunch of people who are breaking the law, it’s that the law is virtually impossible to follow for the vast majority of these people in here. I mean, if when our ancestors came here during the 1800s or early 1900s when we had virtually open borders with the rest of the world, you didn’t hear stories of like boats full of Italian immigrants crashing on New Jersey to let out thousands of illegal Italian immigrants to go and you know, go to Newark and work illegally. No, it’s because they could come legally. They could land at Ellis Island, they could get off and go through very quick inspection. Very few of them were turned back. About two percent were turned back. To go back to their countries because of health or criminal reasons. And for that reason, it was called the Isle of Tears. Because two percent were turned back. Under the current immigration system, virtually anybody who wants to come to this country legally has no way of doing so. Ellis Island was called the Island of Tears, I don’t know what you call our system.

- Of course, President Trump, who is –

- Oh now, if I could –

- Please.

- And sorry, and you asked like isn’t it just a problem that these laws are being violated. Just a problem these illegal immigrants. To an extent I think that’s right. It’s important I think to have a respect for the law, but in order to respect the law, the law has to be respectable. And the law that we have now is not respectable, it’s not in accordance with reality, it’s not capable of being followed really by most people involved with it. So I think that is part of the problem. And bad laws create bad consequences. I think we need to talk about reforming those laws or repealing them rather than doubling down and trying to enforce them, regardless of the consequences. Also, there’s a big difference between somebody committing murder and getting away with it and somebody who breaks immigration laws, but they’re basically just international labor market regulations and getting away with it.

- But isn’t that the kind of people that Mexico is sending us? I mean, according to our current President, who is of course, why we’re recording this episode on what is it, January 27th, 2017. A couple of days after President Trump unrolled some of his first executive orders of immigration. But, when he started his campaign, he said that Mexico is sending us murderers, they’re sending us rapists, and maybe that was standard reason because you have to break the law to get here. So maybe it would be a less law abiding kind of person that Mexico would be quote, unquote, sending us. So do they commit crimes at a higher rate and are they more likely to be murderers or rapists or any other kind of crime. Is Trump right?

- Take a look at immigrants across the board. Well, there’s a couple of ways to measure that. One way is to look at what’s called the area approach. And you take look at how crime rates are affected in an area by immigrants moving into it or by some new immigration enforcement policy that rounds up illegal immigrants and then you take a look at a before and after and how the crime rates were affected and these studies either uniformly find one of two, well, they find one of two conclusions. One is that immigrants have no effect on crime rates in local areas. And the second one is that they actually correlate with decreasing crime rates. You will not be able to find hardly any study in the United States that I’ve come across that says that influx of immigrants into a local area is coincides with an increase in crime, with the exception of Miami in 1980, after the Mariel boatlift. Miami is the exception of virtually all the rules I’m talking about in here today for some very odd, peculiar, unique reasons. But when you take a look at places other than Miami, what we see is an influx of immigrants leads to lower crime or no change in crime. The second way that these studies are done is by taking a look at incarceration rates. So, the government asks in the census through something called the group quarters. Where they ask about incarceration. Questions about where you’re born, if you’re an immigrant in the United States when you came in. If you’re a citizen, et cetera. And when you take a look at those, you find that legal immigrants are much less likely to be incarcer, or all immigrants are much less likely to be incarcerated in prisons on the federal and state level. And when you try to use a statistical method called the residual method to get at trying to estimate who in prison is an illegal immigrant, you find that illegal immigrants are half as likely as native born Americans to be incarcerated for a crime. Now, one of the criticisms of this that’s leveled by people who don’t know much about this system is to say, of course, illegal immigrants are deported when they’re arrested for a crime. Which isn’t true. Under U.S. law right now, an illegal immigrant, if you’re captured for committing a violent or property offense, you have to serve your time before you get deported.

- This raises a question of risk that I sometimes think about. You mentioned Ellis Island where anyone can go and see the exhibits of all the Mediterranean, Italian immigrants that went through there. I think most people would agree that Italian migration to the United states was a net benefit to the United States.

- Better be.

- Yeah well.

- For part of me, yeah.

- For yeah, right.

- But of course, the Italian migrants also brought some organized crime, which affected large parts of the east and seaboard. And I wonder, today in 2017 we think, yeah, Italian migration was worth it, but there was also some associated risks. So how much risk should we tolerate from groups of migrants?

- So it’s interesting to bring up the Italian mob. That was one of the big stereotypes back then, is that Italians were very crime prone. There was also a Jewish mob, an Irish mob, all these different groups had their mobs. What’s interesting is that Dillingham Commission report, which was a report that began by the federal government in 1907 to study immigration’s impact on the United States. It was stacked with anti immigration eugenicists to come up with an answer that says immigration is bad. That was basically the mission, everyone selected had that opinion with the exception of one person. It was designed to produce basically fake facts, or statistically, methodologically unsound statistics to support immigration restrictions. The one section of the report that did not have a negative finding was the crime section. They said that they could not find evidence that immigrants are more crime prone than native born Americans. This was at the height of Italian immigration to the United States had been going on for about 20 years. By that time period, and continued afterwards. So, and there was a commission report done in the 1930s by the U.S. government that found the same thing. Barbara Jordan’s report in the 1990s on immigration. Barbara Jordan was a former Congress woman. Found the same thing that immigrants were less crime prone and all the research today sort of backs that up. Now, in terms of how much risk are we willing to accept going forward, I think that we can do a simple cost benefit calculation. We can take a look at the economic benefit of immigrants. We can take a look at the estimated risk based on the recent past and maybe do some kind of estimation about what could be in the future of terrorism, of crime, of violation of rights through some other sort of means. And say what is that break even point. You know, how much immigration up to that point. And it could be then in the future, you know, there’s a group of immigrants that is so violent, that is so crime prone, that the economic benefits are outweighed by the damage that they do to the United States. That could happen. But based on what we’re taking a look at right now, based on the evidence, the net benefit of immigration, especially if you include the immigrants, you know, the new Americans I like to call them. And their kids.

- What do you mean, the benefit to them.

- The benefit to them. If you include the benefit to them, it’s like undoubtedly hugely positive. If you focus just on the benefit to the Americans who are living here before these immigrants came, it’s narrower, of course. But it’s still positive.

- So we do have an area of the world, though. We have Syria, Saudi Arabia, I’m trying to remember the other ones that were in Trump’s executive order.

- Somalia.

- Somalia.

- Yemen.

- Yemen.

- Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and –

- Jordan

- Libya.

- Libya.

- Saudi Arabia wasn’t on it.

- Not Saudi, yes, not Saudi Arabia. But, there are people there, maybe more than average, or maybe a ton, especially in a place maybe like Iran, where they really do want to commit crimes here and hurt Americans through a very large and given opportunity, they will. Especially if given the opportunity to use chemical weapons or things like this. So having open immigration from these countries seems just absolutely nuts.

- That’s a good point, people say that all the time. What’s interesting is when you take a look at the number of Americans killed on U.S. soil by people from those countries since 1975, you add them all together, the answer is zero.

- Yeah, but it’s different now, right?

- It could be different, but these are people from Iraq, from Syria, from Iran. Up until the end of 2015, zero.

- But our system existed in 1975.

- It didn’t exist in ’75, but existed in 2015. Islamic terrorism existed for a very long time. It certainly did in 1975. It was well known. In fact, airplane hijackings and the like were very common back then. Islamic terrorism has been around for a while. But it’s just that the number of Americans killed on U.S. soil by terrorism is just not that great. We think of of course 9/11 is the exception of this. 9/11, 2,983 Americans died in those attacks on 9/11. But, that is the largest terrorist attack in the world history by about an order of magnitude in terms of its deadliness. It is an extreme outlier when you graph it. Now, that attack was and that attack by the way, accounts for 99.8% of all the Americans killed on U.S. soil by foreign born terrorists during that 41 year time period. It was on that one day in 2001. I don’t think that it makes a lot of sense to have a future immigration restrictions based on an extreme outlier event. Now, that means that we shouldn’t try to screen for terrorism, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to screen for national security threats, we should, I think that the government and immigration screenings should focus entirely on criminal national security terrorism and health threats. Entirely not worry about any other nonsense that they ask about. But the threat is relatively small, and it’s relatively manageable, and it’s manageable by using methods other than blanket across the board bans that do a lot more harm to a lot more innocent people.

- And of course the irony is that a lot of the people that we would ban are fleeing from the very people we seem to be worried about. These Syrian refugees. I remember a while ago, the economist, Brian Kaplan saying, “There’s a fact “that reassure you and terrify you in equal measure.” Which is since the rise of ISIS for Islamic terrorism, it has been possible for someone to smuggle themselves into the United States and quite easily purchase a firearm and go on a shooting rampage. And as Alex has pointed out, it’s very rare.

- But it has happened though.

- It has happened, but I think, you know, it’s –

- Almost all those people are people born in the United States. So that Orlando shooter was born in the United States. However, the shooter in San Bernardino at the end of 2015, he was born in the U.S., but his wife was not, she was I believe Pakistani when she came over. So they killed 14 people in that attack, but that was the deadliest terrorist attack committed by a foreigner on U.S. soil since 9/11, was killed 14 people in that one attack.

- So heightening restrictions by country, would that be something that you’d be okay with for terrorism. Because again, Iran is not France, or Iran is not Italy. So saying that Iranians have to get extra screening, but only for those things, would you be okay with that?

- Yes, yeah, I absolutely would be okay with allocating scarce government resources on security checks, more to certain population based on estimates of terrorism of crime, based on things like that. I think that’s totally reasonable. What’s interesting about the Iranians though, in the countries that are on this list that Trump put on this list is there were, when I talk about the Americans killed in terrorism, there are other terrorists from those countries who tried to commit an attack on the U.S. during that time. So you add up those seven countries, the people convicted of planning an attack or trying to do American, so there are 17 people. What’s interesting with the Iranians though, there are six of them. Five of them in the late 1970s were convicted of terrorism because they were planning on trying to kidnap a Minnesota elected official and holding him ransom. And they ended up doing it for like a couple of hours. And they were convicted of, that was considered terrorism at the time. There was one guy in North Carolina more recently who drove his car and hit somebody with it. Didn’t kill anybody. But he was convicted of terrorism. That’s who most of these types of people are. Or they are people who were pushed by the FBI, sort of the disturbed people, psychological problems, the FBI finds them, maybe these people don’t like America and the FBI sort of pushes them over the edge. Gives them a fake bomb, a fake plan, tells them to go out there and plan terrorist attack, they help out and then these people do, and then they get arrested. Now, I don’t have a problem with those people being incarcerated. Those probably are people who would do harm anyway.

- One way or another.

- One way or another. I mean, like you have to be a special kind of person to go for that in the first place, so I don’t feel any sympathy for them.

- But it’s from our system a problem, you’re saying.

- Well yeah, this is not a problem that’s huge and it probably is blown out of proportion by the FBI and the government law enforcement trying to push people in that direction. But even with that, I think it’s remarkable how few deaths we have from terrorism on U.S. soil. Especially since, I mean, I remember after 9/11, everybody, it was like common wisdom. People said, oh, this is the first of many. There are gonna be so many terrorist attacks going forward. There are going to be nuclear, chemical, or biological. They are gonna crash airplanes and everything. They are gonna shoot up malls every weekend or crash trains. It’s remarkable how few have been. And John Mueller at Ohio State University has done a remarkable amount of work.

- And our colleague here.

- Our colleague here, who’s an inspiration for a lot of my work on this. And he advised me on it. And taking a look at some of these threats by visa category, and it’s just remarkably small threats.

- We can put up a link to the episode that John of Free Thoughts that John was on where he discussed some of that risk.

- And we can talk about that too. Like one of the things that Trump talked about and what people are really worried about it refugees. So I decided to take a look at how many refugees have come into the U.S. since 1975. See how many terrorist acts they’ve committed. How many Americans they’ve killed.

- This is from any country.

- It’s from any country coming into the United States.

- Refugee from Vietnam or from anywhere.

- Anywhere, Vietnam, Cuba, anywhere. The reason why I took my report back to 1975, was because I had to go back that far to find a refugee who successfully killed somebody in a terrorist act.

- Really, okay.

- There were three.

- You like, this is the guy’s name that you know.

- Yes.

- Yeah, it’s that specific.

- It’s that specific. I can give you the guy’s name.

- You don’t need to tell, yeah, you don’t need to tell me now. I was just like, it is that specific, it’s not just pier or numbers on a page.

- No, these are actual names of Cuban refugees actually, who were involved in a couple of assassinations in the late 1970s, which counts as terrorism in the United States. So if we take a look at that, we include all of those, I found out that your chance of being killed in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil committed by a refugee is one in 3.6 billion a year. So that’s a very small chance of being killed by a refugee terrorist attack.

- How does that compare to say, some of the things like you being hit by a car or being murdered by an American, sir.

- So, I like to compare it to murder because terrorism is more similar to that. You know, it’s an intentional sort of action. I think people get a little upset when you compare something like an accident, you know, like slipping in the bathtub to somebody being killed. So I try to avoid those. I don’t think they work, so I try to avoid those comparisons. But when you compare to say, just normal homicides during that time period, there were about 768,000 homicides in the U.S. during that time period. So your chance of being murdered is about one in 14,000. So, when you take a look at, so that’s somewhere around 200, around 255,000 times as likely to be just in a normal homicide, murdered than be killed in a refugee terrorist attack.

- Now.

- Per year.

- Aside from refugees which is a different case because there is as we’ve talked about, you and me personally. The immigrants who make a choice to come to a country are a very class of people than on mass fleeing of everyone but for what’s happened in their country they would stay in it. So it’s a different kind of person, correct?

- So I want to make two distinctions here, a refugee or asylum seeker often thrown together, they’re very different. So an asylum seeker I think is what you’re describing. Is somebody who comes to your country and asks to be allowed in because if they get sent back, they’re gonna be persecuted and abused. A refugee, however, is somebody who is overseas, outside of their home country, but in another country and they fled for those reasons and they’re asking or they want to come to the United States. The thing is refugees are selected by the U.S. government. We have a horrible system for refugees for a lot of reasons. But in terms of safety and minimizing threats from terrorism, or other national security threats is pretty good, because the government basically slices people from the beginning and they go over 20 different rounds of checks. Security checks, other checks, interviews with them, interviews with people from their supposed home town to make sure they are who they say they are. The United Nation does interviews and they usually try to take a look at the databases in their home countries or other countries that they’ve been to in the meantime. And at any step along the way, they can be rejected if there’s any kind of doubt about their intentions or origins. Of course it’s not perfect. There’ve been over three million refugees since the late 70s, who’ve come to the United States and some of them, there’ve been 20 terrorism convictions for trying to plan or commit an attack here on U.S. soil. So it’s obviously not perfect, but their wildly unsuccessful and the government does actually a decent job of screening them by basically blocking almost everybody.

- But if we open it up to, let’s say, all the Syrian refugees or let’s just, I mean, refugees, let’s stay with immigrants right now, it’s sort of a separate issue. But if we opened it up to a lot of people, like every person in the Middle East who would want to come here, it seems that one of the things that we would have to be concerned with is that they don’t share our values. And I don’t necessarily mean that we don’t eat the same food as they do, but they’re not liberal, democratic, free speech, things like this, they want to impose Sharia law. Things like this, and if enough of them come to say, Oklahoma City, from what I hear has a big problem with Sharia law, or at least it’s always trying to ban it, they could do it. 200,000 Muslim immigrants all of a sudden in Oklahoma City could vote to put Sharia law into Oklahoma City. And that seems like we should really be concerned with.

- So what’s interesting is like, for normal immigration, people decide to come, others are self selection mechanism. The immigrants who come from country X, or from the Middle East, are not a random selection of people from the Middle East that hold the average, sort of Middle Eastern value or Muslim value in terms of those issues. What they are is people who decide they want to leave their home country, come to the United States for working opportunity, they like to take those types of risks, they’re ambitious, they don’t mind being away from the culture they’re born into. They don’t mind being surrounded by people of other religions. They don’t mind having to learn another language types of people, who are not typically a type of people who want to impose Sharia law or force the way of life onto other people. So this is crucial self selection mechanism and when you take a look at it in polling data, it actually comes out starkly. So the Muslims in the Middle East and other places around the world, usually have pretty bad opinions outside of the United States on things like violence, genital mutilation of women, the role of religion in the state. Lots of illiberal values that we are all rightly abhorred by. But the Muslims in the United States have opinions on this issues that are very similar to that of non Muslim Americans. They’re very similar to that of native born Americans. So much so that they basically look like there are four or five years behind other Americans in terms of their opinion on a lot of these liberal issues.

- So.

- So if you think like Americans in 2013, there was a time machine came over here and they vote to impose like these horrible policies on us, then I –

- And make us all listen to that guy’s song, what was it?

- You’re asking the wrong guy, man.

- Oh come on, near that.

- You’re looking at me?

- I’m just thinking of Americans from 2013 coming into the Floridas makes us into that stupid Korean song, but continue, sorry.

- Well, I was gonna, so expanding it, not just expanding it wider than the Middle East and Muslims, a complaint I sometimes hear it from my right‐​leaning friends is, yeah, of course Democrats or people on the left like immigrants ’cause they’re all liberal and they all want a welfare state, and they don’t believe in these conservative American entrepreneurial values and I wonder how true is it that the rest of the world is actually very left‐​wing. And that the people from the rest of the world that come to America are especially left‐​wing. Is there evidence that immigrants in the second or third generation do have a significant impact on American politics?

- So.

- Or in one direction. I’m sure they would have

- In one direction and yes, of course

- an impact.

- they have in impact, but in a particular direction.

- So it’s interesting, I believe Pew comes out with surveys where they ask people in different countries whether they like free markets or socialism, or some kind of mix. And what’s interesting, like I think was Bangladesh and Vietnam had the most support for free markets. The United States was better than most other countries, but we’re not the exceptional outlier that we like to think we are in terms of public opinion. We like the rhetoric I think of freedom and free markets. We don’t quite, in terms of the political system, appreciate them nearly as much as the rhetoric might suggest. But what about their impact on public policies? So I’ve done extensive research on this and it’s true that immigrants do disproportionally vote democratic. Now, that’s been true since about 1798, for the Democratic party or the predecessor to that party that had different names at different times. Even when the Democratic party was a free market party. So the reason why that is, is in 1798, the Federalists party at that time, which was sort of the Nationalists Economic Protections Party, which was popular in the cities, decided to run on an anti‐​Irish, anti‐​Catholic platform and immigrants then as now are majority Catholics. And they, of course, reacted by not voting for the party that said that they were bad. They voted for the party that treated them like they were human beings. And that trend has lasted throughout the 19th Century and even lasted without a change, after the Democrats went from being the relatively pro free market party to the relatively anti free market party that became the Progressive party. That trend continued. What’s remarkable is that today, and that has continued to this day, where the Republican party is the party more critical of immigration, more critical of the groups that these immigrants come from, the ethnic and racial groups that tend to be more harshly worried. They tend to be worried about the impact of immigration, they let officials who are worried about it. And they tend to want to crack down on it. So the main reason immigrants vote for Democrats is not because of their opinions on public policies, it is because of the fact of identity politics, that the Republican party doesn’t like them, says it doesn’t like them and the Democratic party is not nice to them. Now, the reason why I say it’s not because of public opinions is because the general social survey, every couple of years does huge surveys of households and individuals in the United States. And it divides it up by first generation, second, third, fourth, any generation you can find. And when you pull immigrants, they’re opinions on public policy, on whether taxes should be higher or lower, on whether welfare should be greater or less, whether social security should be expanded, et cetera, on almost every single category, either a conservative or liberal, it is within the margin of error compared to native born Americans by every generation compared to those who are fourth generation or greater in the United States. The small differences that do exist on these issues, when you compare immigrants who are citizens, who have naturalized, who have been here for a while. Their opinions are even closer to natives on all of these issues. It’s the immigrants who are non citizens, who haven’t been here very long, who can’t vote yet, who have the opinions that are most likely to be different. Of course, the two issues, where there are differences that are systematic, well there’s really three issues. The first one is which political party you consider yourself a member of, big differences for the reasons I described. The second issue is on immigrations. Immigrants think immigration is good for America, there should be more of it. Now, I think that those two things are linked. I think that the opinion of immigrants, on immigration, and the opinion of the Republican party are so mismatched that it is very difficult for them and their descendants, at least initially, to not support them. And all these small differences I described go away by the second generation, they’re totally bled in. No systematic differences in terms of opinion. The other issue, by the way, is marijuana. So immigrants are gonna be against marijuana legalization, which is bad, but it could be a lot worse. Now, one of the issues with that, that people raise, is oh, you need to look at countries of origin. And unfortunately, the sample sizes in the general social survey are not big enough to be able to come up with that.

- To like figure out, Guatemalan.

- Yeah, or Mexicans versus Chinese verses like French. They’re not big enough to figure that out. But what’s super interesting is where you narrow down the years, ’cause the social survey you could take a look in a year. So we take a look at the last 10 years, where the stock of immigrants in the U.S. Is pretty similar to those who have come in, or are coming in now, mostly Hispanic and Asian. Overwhelmingly Hispanic and Asian. The results are no different than they were in the 1970s, where there were mostly European immigrants that were living in the United States. So it doesn’t appear to matter where they are from when they get here.

- So the answer to my trivia question was “Gangnam Style.” You should’ve known that, Matthew, which is for our 2013, Matthew should have known that. For 2013 time travelers who would come here now and one would wonder how we let the Donald Trump as President. And so let’s talk about some of those things that Trump of course, ran on. Immigration is probably his biggest concern.

- I want to jump in with one thing. ‘Cause we just talked about the political impact of immigration and institutions. Everyone, at least in the free market side who’s opposed to, who favors immigration restrictions has been saying, we need to stop immigration because they’re gonna ruin our political and economic institutions. And the guy who is doing that more than anybody else, is the most anti immigrant candidate, which is Donald Trump. It is not, if Donald Trump had a el thing of his name and came from Latin America, everyone would be saying, El Trumpo, or something. Everyone would be saying, oh, look how these immigrants are undermining our political institutions. We can’t have anymore of them. But the guy is from New York, he’s got blonde hair and he’s a white guy, so people don’t say that.

- Trumpasconi, if he was Trumpasconi, or if he took his oath of office wearing, you know, military medals and military gear, like he should’ve, but anyway. Let’s talk about some of these things. Okay, let’s, the wall. Immigrants are pouring over the border, it’s unsecured. We’ve talked about maybe how they’re not doing these things but I keep hearing they’re pouring over the border. And it’s absurd to have a border that is just open as the U.S. Mexico border. You can’t really have a country if you don’t have a secure border, so why shouldn’t we have a wall and not just a fence? Like an effective wall.

- A huge wall.

- A huge wall, yeah. In other words, Trump is ruined. Big wall, big wall, whatever. Why shouldn’t we have one and then deal with immigration in a more constrained way. Be able to deal with the problem without having to worry about the border too.

- So the issue is that the number of illegal immigrants crossing the border is near a 45 year old low. There are more in the late 70s coming today. The big surge during Reagan, Clinton, Bush, all that stuff is over. The Great Recession in the United States killed the housing market where all these folks worked in. There’s been more enforcement in terms of Border Patrol to stop some of them from coming in. And the economies in Mexico and Central America have improved and there’s fewer people in this generation than there were in the last one who were able to come. So the combination of these factors, has really shrunk the number of illegal immigrants who are crossing the border and coming in through that means. So the border wall might have been an effective tool for enforcement 15 or 20 years ago. It is not an effective tool today just given how few illegal immigrants are coming in across the border and the fact that we have a huge Border Patrol. So on the southwest border, there’s about 19,000, little less than 19,000 Border Patrol agents.

- It’s a 2,000 mile border though. I mean.

- It’s a 2,000 mile border, but the number that they have apprehended individually per year, it’s about 16.

- Per agent.

- Per agent, per year, in 2015. To put that in perspective, that’s the lowest it’s been as long as we’ve had this data in the United States at least since 1940s in terms of the apprehensions per agent. So the pressure that there is to actually come to this country is a lot less on the southwest border than people realize. Most of the people coming in illegally now, for the first time in recorded history, in the United States anyway, the number crossing the border who are Mexican, the percentage actually dipped below 50% in 2014. It was mostly Central Americans at that point, they were the plurality. Mexicans have jumped up a little bit, Central Americans down, so Mexicans are about half of those people who are crossing the border and that just tells you for one thing that Central Americans are the ones who are coming and mainly they’re seeking asylum. So they show up at the border, they ask for asylum and are let it or they just sneak across and try to get in. So it’s a different set of countries, but it’s a set of countries that are a lot smaller than Mexico and have a lot less potential to send people to the United States. And the reason, by the way, the reason these Central Americans are coming and you’ve heard this for a while, probably, but you say, you’ve heard Mexico has these really strict immigration laws. They fortify their border, why can’t we copy Mexico in terms of their laws? Well, that was really popular from like Rush Limbaugh, and you know, Congressman Ted Poe said this to criticize Mexico in 2010, when Mexico criticized Arizona’s immigration laws. Now Mexico to their credit, heard these criticisms and they changed their laws around 2010, 2011. They passed new laws that substantially liberalize immigration, very much decreased border security in their south border. Made it easier to go to Mexico legally, made it easier for Central Americans to come in and get a permit to work, and to do that. And that is the reason why more Central Americans are coming. Is because they’ve been able to get into Mexico easier because the United States pressured Mexico to not be so hypocritical in its immigration laws. Now, Obama kind of went back on that in 2015 because he wants to outsource American immigration, he wanted to anyway when he was president to other countries doing our work for us so that he wouldn’t suffer the bad publicity and Mexico puts some more troops down at the border. But still, Mexico, the reason why we had this border surge of Central Americans was because they listen to the U.S. government complaining about Mexican Government hypocrisy.

- But it is an unsecured border, correct? I mean, if you have 19,000 troops, but it’s unsecured border.

- They’re not troops.

- Officers.

- A valiant Border Patrol, border bureaucrats. No, Border Patrol officers doing this. I mean, it’s not perfectly secure, no. Nothing is perfectly secure, but in terms of the danger of these folks coming across the flow, the numbers of people coming across, it’s very manageable, it’s much more secure than it was in the past. There are, especially around urban areas where people live, the amount of security is superb in terms of that. Cities along the border have lower crime rates than cities on the interior of the United States. Cities in the United States with higher Hispanic first and second generation, immigrants have lower crime rates than other cities in the United States. So the notion that there’s this huge surge in crime, I mean, it’s just not supported by the facts. And it’s true the border is not 100% secure. Nothing is 100% secure. But it’s a lot more secure than it’s been in our entire lifetimes. And building a big, expensive wall that will cost between 24 and 32 billion dollars for doing it along half the border, which is what Trump wants to do. On top of another billion dollars per mile per year for for maintenance, is just not an effective way to control this. If we want to get control of it, we need to have a more liberal and open immigration system, so these folks who want to come here illegally, who aren’t criminal or national security threats, can actually do so legally, so we can actually check them out and let them come in through the front door. In the 1950s, we had two million illegal immigrants who were Mexicans working in the southwest. The government instead of cracking down on enforcement, created a large guest worker visa program, where they allowed any Mexican to really sign up for it, work in the U.S. on farms temporarily, go back and forth. Made it easy for farmers to get these. Border Patrol agents sometimes went around and they spot legalized, or granted amnesty to Mexican illegal immigrants by giving them a permit. Drove them sometimes back to the border and then drive them back to their farms the next day to check them out. It cut the number of illegal immigrant border crossers by 95% in one year after this program was instituted and it cut the number of illegal immigrants in the United States by 90% by making them legal. If we actually care about reducing the illegal immigrant population, and making sure it doesn’t increase in the future, a liberal, more open immigration system is the only way to effectively do it.

- Could you put in perspective how weird the situation we find ourselves in actually is. As Trevor mentioned, we’re recording this at the end of Trump’s first week as President.

- It’s only been a week?

- And throughout the campaign I heard this phrase that we mentioned once before. A nation without borders is not a real nation. And aside from using country, state, and nation as synonyms, I wonder, historically, how secure have these borders been? By this reasoning it seems that we were not a country by this definition for the first decade, century. I mean, how weird and recent is this situation we find ourselves in now?

- Excellent point. From 1790 to 1875, there were no federal immigration restrictions. There was an open border. There are not even those who block criminals or hookers, or anything. Nothing that came later that we think, that a lot of people think may be reasonable, like criminals who were sick. None of that.

- So you’re saying. Let’s just clarify, so we get on a boat in France, or French citizen, you take the boat to New York in 1870 and you just get off and say, I’m gonna live in New York now and that was okay?

- So New York City was one of the handful sections you had to line up at a place called Castle, Castle Island to go through a very quick quarantine if you were sick. But they wouldn’t send you back.

- Okay, so Charleston, South Carolina.

- Yeah, you get off the boat, you’re there.

- That’s it, I’m now an American.

- Some states.

- You wouldn’t be an American, but you wouldn’t be kicked out.

- Yeah, you wouldn’t be an American. The federal government has always had naturalization rules about when it is you can become a citizen. Yeah, they couldn’t kick you out. Some states had rules that they tried to enforce about things, but, I mean, they never really tried that much and the federal government said they really couldn’t do that and a series of cases I believe called the Miln Cases that basically struck down those laws. And those laws were not really restrictions, they were just like bonds, so you pay a bond and you get it back if you didn’t commit a crime or something like that. So very, very minor restrictions. So that was the case under the first immigration law passed in 1790, which was just, I mean, it didn’t really say anything about immigration, it was only naturalization. Instead you had to be a good moral character, had to have lived here for five years, had to be white, shamefully, that was the bad part about it. But in terms of the restrictions about being able to come here, zero. That is the traditional, original, American immigration policy, written by many of the founders who were in Congress at the time and signed by President George Washington into effect. So the notion that a country needs immigration restrictions in a severely enforced border, in order to actually be a country, that would be surprising to every president from 1789 through 1875. I mean, I don’t know if I would be willing to go back in time and tell Abraham Lincoln that he actually doesn’t have a real country that he’s fighting the Civil War over just because there’s no immigration controls.

- What are the biggest cost to these anti immigration laws? These restrictions on immigration. I mean, Trump says that he wants the wall, but he wants a big open door. But a lot of the people who advice Trump are actually against legal immigration, not just illegal immigration. But when we have these laws that are restricting immigration like what are the biggest costs that we have to endure as a nation or the people to these laws.

- Yeah, so Donald Trump and his position paper that he had when he was running for President on immigration, depending on exactly what, it’s a little fuzzy at some points, imagine that. But in terms of what he wants to do, in terms of cutting legal immigration, it could cut up to 63% on his plan. Legal immigrants coming to the United States. So a fairly dramatic decrease in legal immigration. So I think it’s fair to call him at least in his position paper and tie immigration because he opposes a lot of legal immigration. But what are the big costs to Americans? I mean, big cost is that we will miss out on an enormous number of people, who are some of the most productive people, most ambitious people from other countries who want to come here to work, to set up shop, to be entrepreneurs, to found businesses. As a result, they will not invent the things they want to invent, because they want to come to this country ’cause we have better institutions and better wages as a result of that. Sergey Brin, who was a Soviet refugee to the United States, who co‐​founded Google, when he was older, would not have been able to create Google if he stayed in Russia or the Soviet Union. I sort of get sad thinking about it, but how many other Googles, how many other dramatic, incredible firms were not created because people like Sergey were not allowed. Another example of that that I love is Andrew Carnegie. Born in Scotland, 1836, I believe he was immigrated to the United States in 1848, he threw hard work, determination, and entrepreneurial talent. Founded a series of firms that ended up being merged together called U.S. Steel, which was the first billion dollar corporation. Employed hundreds and hundreds and thousands of Americans. Created an enormous value by producing steel. More efficiently a lower price than anybody else.

- Or just local restaurateur, or public company, or dry cleaner.

- And it goes down to that. So immigrants are twice as likely to start a business than native born Americans. In a place like New York City, about 36% of the population is foreign born. 48% of the businesses right in that city now are owned and were started by immigrants. People are not a drain on the economy. People are good for the economy. People are creative, they are workers, not just mouths that need to eat and consume things, they make things. And the things that they make, they do not display Southern Americans by doing, so they increase the size of the economic pie and they increase it a lot more when they are here in this country than they do in their home countries.

- Thanks for listening. This episode of Free Thoughts was produced by Tess Terrible and Evan Banks. To learn more, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.