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Adam Bates joins us this week to talk about how the Muslim ban inspired him to change his work focus from criminal justice to refugee relief.

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

Adam Bates is a policy analyst with Cato’s Project on Criminal Justice. His research interests include constitutional law, the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, police militarization, and overcriminalization.

Adam Bates, from the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), joins us this week for our 250th episode to talk about how the Muslim ban, which President Trump initiated during his first week in office, inspired him to change his work focus from criminal justice reform to refugee relief.

Bates addresses how the Administration is “overtly hostile” towards refugees. In our current political climate, it is an extremely trying time for refugee law, but also to be a refugee. The Refugee Act of 1980 allows the President to decide each year what the refugee cap is for the following year. President Trump set the lowest cap in the last 38 years at 45,000 refugees for the 2018 fiscal year. We have only resettled 16,000 refugees so far this year. We are incredibly far away from our maximum capacity of refugees.

What is a refugee by definition? Are there exceptions to this definition? What is “temporary‐​protected status”? How is an asylum‐​seeker different than a refugee? How does the refugee process work? Which countries are accepting the most refugees? Is the United States really the “beacon on the hill” that we think we are?

Further Readings

IRAP response to the travel ban

UNHCR defines what types of refugess they classify

President Donald Trump advocated last year for dropping the refugee cap.



00:07 Aaron Ross Powell: Welcome to Free Thoughts. I’m Aaron Powell.

00:09 Trevor Burrus: And I’m Trevor Burrus.

00:10 Aaron Ross Powell: Joining us today, on what is our 250th episode of Free Thoughts, is Adam Bates, Policy Counsel, at the International Refugee Assistance Project. Welcome back to Free Thoughts.

00:21 Adam Bates: Hi, guys. Yeah. Hi.

00:22 Aaron Ross Powell: What is the International Refugee Assistance Project?

00:26 Adam Bates: Sure. So it was originally founded in 2008, as the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project. It was five students at Yale Law School, including Becca Heller, who is our current Director, just saw that there was a need, that was at the height of the Iraq War, saw that there was a need for legal services, for people who were applying for refugee status to the United States. And the provision of direct legal services to this community basically just didn’t exist at that time. So it was really her vision to create a law firm, essentially, and people who could leverage legal expertise to help refugees escape the situations there.

01:06 Adam Bates: And so I believe in about 2015, it was rebranded as the International Refugee Assistance project, and their mandate grew, because they were representing refugees not just from Iraq but from all over the world. So yeah, that’s what we do. We provide direct legal services to refugee applicants. We litigate. We also have a lot of pro bono chapters, so law firms who help us do our work. And we have about 29 or 30 law student chapters, so we outsource a lot of work to law students, so we actually do a lot more work than the number of people who actually work there would suggest.

01:45 Trevor Burrus: This is only people coming to America? I just assume your expertise is American refugee law, but does it get involved with situations such as the Syrian refugees going over to Europe?

01:57 Adam Bates: We’ve primarily focused on the United States, because that’s where the expertise is. We have field offices in Amman, Jordan, and Beirut, Lebanon. Sometimes we will work with people, we have a Canadian law school, a Canadian law student chapter. So on occasion, we may help people navigate the Canadian process, but we usually would defer to Canadian lawyers on that. So, yes, by and large, this is focused on helping refugee applicants get to the United States, but if the situation arises we are trying to get them to any safe third country.

02:32 Aaron Ross Powell: How did you get involved?

02:35 Adam Bates: Yeah, that’s an interesting story. So I was actually working at Cato, I started at IRAP in October of last year, so I’ve been there about nine months now. For the three years prior to that, I was doing criminal justice policy here at the Cato Institute. And so basically what happened, was the election happened and then President Trump instituted the Muslim ban, in his first week in office. I was just motivated, by what I saw going on in the airports, by what was happening, what I thought was on the basis of people’s religion or their nationality, or their ethnicity, so I just decided that I wanted to start working on refugee issues. I knew that IRAP was responsible for a lot of that organization that people may remember from the airports, where lawyers were showing up to Dulles and Reagan, and trying to help get people off the planes, because the Muslim ban came down at like 4:20, on a Friday afternoon, and it went into effect immediately.

03:34 Adam Bates: So there were people in the air, who when they landed, the husband would be a US citizen, and his wife wouldn’t be a citizen. So, they were turning the wife around, and sending her back to Syria or sending her back to Iran, and the husbands, they were calling people and asking, “What can I do? They’re deporting my wife back to Syria.” And I was just offended. I would say I found reservoirs of patriotism I didn’t know I had, and I thought that this can’t be what this country is about, this can’t be something. And I just felt that as a libertarian, as a lawyer, as somebody with some background in Middle East studies and the Arabic language, I just felt that this was the thing for me to do at that time, during… While that policy was ongoing I thought I really wanna help this refugee issue.

04:23 Trevor Burrus: What does it take to be a refugee to the United States in the general sense?

04:29 Adam Bates: Well, in the specific legal context…

04:35 Trevor Burrus: Yeah. What legal test could you have to meet to be a refugee?

04:36 Adan Bates: Sure. A refugee is a person, typically they’re… Of course, there are exceptions to this, but typically a refugee is somebody who is not in their country of residence, they’re not in their home country. They’re unwilling or unable to return to their home country, because of a well‐​founded fear of persecution based on race, ethnicity, religion, political opinion, social group, something like that. It’s a pretty objective test, but at the same time, you can see how that might apply to a lot of people. I think currently there are roughly 20 million, according to UNHCR, which is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are about 20 million refugees in the world, with about five million more Palestinians, who are considered refugees. And so that’s just people who meet that definition.

05:28 Adam Bates: There are also people who are asylum seekers, those are people who have arrived in a country like the United States, and claim that they can’t be sent back to their country, for largely the same reasons, for well‐​founded fear of persecution. And then there are what we call internally displaced people, these are people who are still in their home country, but they’ve had to leave where they were from for some reason, usually internal persecution. So those people do not count as refugees under the UN definition. So the group of people that we work with typically, are people who are outside their home country, they’re looking for a safe third country and they can’t go back to their home country.

06:08 Aaron Ross Powell: Does that persecution requirement then mean that someone who, say, is just… There’s a civil war going on, and you happen to be caught in the middle of it, so you’re not being targeted for any of the various criteria that you’ve listed, but it simply is just it’s too dangerous to remain there because you could get a bomb dropped on you at any time and so you fled, that doesn’t count as a refugee?

06:27 Adam Bates: Well, as I mentioned, that was the general definition of refugee. There are also exceptions to this. In US law, there are things called temporary protected status, which you may have heard of, which are people who are in the United States, something happens. Now, this something could be a broader category than what I mentioned earlier, so it could be a natural disaster, it could be the Syrian civil war breaks out, and you’re in the United States, and you are given a temporary protected status.

06:57 Adam Bates: Of course, the problem there, if you come in as a refugee, after a year you can apply to have an adjustment of status to a permanent resident, and then four years after that, you can apply to become a citizen, it’s the same as if you had emigrated to the US. Temporary protected status is temporary, and these people exist in this kind of limbo. The government has to re‐​authorize or re‐​designate that their particular crisis, or else they can be sent out of the country, and that’s happened a couple of times under this administration, where there are concerns about people who’ve been in the US, and they’re under temporary protected status, but they’re concerned about losing that status and potentially being deported. Even for people who don’t qualify technically as refugees, there are humanitarian parole and temporary protected status, there are ways for them to be kept in the country, if the administration is amenable to those.

07:50 Trevor Burrus: Well, I think that story was the Hondurans, the 40,000 Hondurans who had temporary protected status for 20 years or something, and then they just took it away. Which seems to me to be vicious, is the only real word I can think of. I don’t think they were causing any huge problems. I don’t think there were a bunch of stories of Honduran crime sprees, I might be wrong about that, but just to be like, “No, you guys gotta go home.” I guess it kinda…

08:18 Adam Bates: After 20 years.

08:19 Trevor Burrus: It kinda shows something about the way this administration thinks of people living in this country who aren’t American citizens.

08:25 Adam Bates: I think so. I think the answer you would get is, temporary is meant to be temporary. And it’s this very formulaic… Instead of considering the broader humanitarian picture or the broader philosophical issues at stake, it’s really drawing right down into the name itself and saying, “Well, temporary means temporary.” They’ve been here 20 years, yeah, you’re right. I’m not familiar with any big Honduran crime spree. So, yes, this administration has obviously taken a line on people who are not citizens, making it harder to come to the United States, making it harder to be a citizen. So, yes, I think anybody who works in the space I work in, would tell you that this is not a great time for refugee law in the US or in the world, really. I like finding tough battles, I think that’s part of being a libertarian, is finding these hard battles and fighting them. But yes, this is a very trying time for refugee rights and immigration rights, more broadly.

09:26 Aaron Ross Powell: What does fighting those battles look like specifically for you? So what do you do in your day job with IRAP?

09:32 Adam Bates: Sure. One of the things that IRAP really prides itself on, it’s a very young organization, both in terms of how long it’s existed, and in terms of how old the people are who work there. So it’s a lot of young lawyers who are energetic and interested and fired up about this issue. People are very interested in doing the various things that we do at IRAP. The bulk of our work is our legal department, so those are people who are providing direct legal services to refugee applicants. They’re helping ‘em fill out the paperwork, they’re helping ‘em file appeals. They’re walking them through the laborious process of becoming a refugee. We also have a litigation department, and what litigation does basically is sue the government. So we sued over the Muslim ban, we lost in the Supreme Court. And we still have… So the Muslim ban was actually bifurcated into the travel ban and then the refugee ban.

10:23 Adam Bates: We are still litigating the refugee aspect of the Muslim ban, but as everyone knows, the travel ban was resolved by the Supreme Court in favor of the administration. We’re also suing about various other refugee issues. There was a program for unaccompanied children from Central America, called the Central American Minors Program.

10:45 Trevor Burrus: Was this the thing that people were freaking out about during the Obama administration, when they were saying that the kids are coming north, and everyone started freaking out about it?

10:55 Adam Bates: Right. And I’m from Oklahoma. They were using an army base in Oklahoma to bus the kids there, and yes, and this was… Yes, people probably remember during the Obama administration, the unaccompanied minor crisis at the border. But a lot of these were kids who were fleeing drug violence in Central America.

11:14 Trevor Burrus B: Which was coincidentally caused by our prohibitionary laws. But never… Leave that on the side there.


11:19 Adam Bates: Well, when you deal with refugee issues, and when you talk to people about where, if at all, the obligation to take in refugees comes from? I think that’s a worthwhile point to make, is that, especially, you may think that we have a general obligation to provide sanctuary and refuge to people. But even if you don’t, the situations where we can draw direct lines between US government policies and the existence of the refugee crisis in the first place, maybe we have a bit more of an obligation there, but so… Yes, this was a program to basically provide humanitarian parole which is… Again, this is one of these kind of executive processes to get people into the country.

12:01 Adam Bates: The Central American Minors Program was a way for those kids to be able to stay in the US. When President Trump got elected, he without a lot of fanfare, without telling anybody, just basically cancelled that program, without giving any kind of justification, just, “We’re not doing this anymore.” So we’re litigating that issue. We’re litigating on behalf of… There’s a program called The Lautenberg Program, which, if people were around in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, they may remember the Lautenberg Program was originally established to help Jews fleeing the Soviet Union. So a lot of the history of US refugee law is helping people fleeing communism, whether from Vietnam, whether from Russia, Cuba, for instance, we’ve always had that sense that people living under a communist government should be able to find a home in the US.

12:51 Adam Bates: But, so the Lautenberg Program, since there aren’t a lot of Jews fleeing the Soviet Union anymore, the bulk of that program now is helping people who are being persecuted in Iran get to the US, so mostly religious persecution, Christians, Zoroastrians. So the way that program works, because the US doesn’t have any official relationship with the government of Iran, people in the Lautenberg Program apply, and then they’re approved to go to Austria, and the Austrian government actually manages this program from Vienna. Up until President Trump was elected, once those Iranians got to Vienna and went through the rest of the vetting and all of that, the admission rate to the US was something like 99.9%. For all intents and purposes, once you were in Vienna, you were coming to the US. Since President Trump was elected, that has dropped to about zero.

13:43 Adam Bates: And so you may have seen some articles from Reuters or somewhere else, talking about dozens or hundreds of Iranians who are stranded in Austria. The Austrian government didn’t promise to take these, it was a temporary situation. So we’re also litigating on behalf of those people, because the government is obligated by statute to inform them to the greatest extent practicable why they were denied, and in every one of these cases, at least the cases that I’m familiar with, the response from the government was “for discretionary reasons,” period.

14:19 Trevor Burrus: So how appealable is that? Is that kind of… Are you kind of stuck after that?

14:26 Adam Bates: Well, so we actually got class action status recently, so we’re representing the entire class. Because what will happen sometimes is, if you’re representing two or three people, the government may move those two or three people through and then you’ve mooted the case, you can’t proceed to the issue because your clients are no longer. But so we’ve been granted class status, we won partial summary judgment on the issue of the government having to provide notice about… At least a better explanation for why these people were denied. But in terms of where that’s going, I can’t tell you. Our third department is our policy department, which is where I work, so I have a tangential relationship with our litigation wings and our legal departments, but the bulk of my work is in our policy department. I have a handful of clients myself, every lawyer who comes to work at IRAP will do some client work, just so they understand the process. And that’s been very valuable for me, because I wasn’t coming here from a position of refugee law, but so I have a handful of clients that I work with.

15:32 Adam Bates: I also manage our student policy chapter. So, insofar as our law school student groups are doing policy work, they’re coordinating that with me, and then I do a lot of our DC work. IRAP is based in New York, I am here in DC, I’m based here in DC, and I do a lot of our policy work on the Hill, trying to persuade the administration, persuade Congress to protect the refugee program that we have, and expand it if possible. But as we’ve discussed, this is a very tough time for that kind of policy work, so a lot of that work now is just trying to ensure the program that already exists can keep going.

16:14 Aaron Ross Powell: Can you tell us a bit about those clients that you have, what kinds of situations do they find themselves in, what specifically are you doing to help them?

16:24 Adam Bates: Well, for confidentiality reasons, and I will say that… Yeah, as I said about who these refugees are, it’s not just the general lawyer confidentiality issue, it’s that… Our refugee clients almost by definition are facing some kind of threat, so it’s really important not to get into too many specifics. But just by the fact that they’re applying to be refugees, they’ve generally fled their home country for some reason, they have some well‐​established threat to their life, and they need a safe harbor in a third country. They’re not safe where they are. So you can imagine, you can imagine the kind of conditions that these people are living in, you can imagine the kind of things that must be going through their head. They’ve uprooted their entire lives, they’re living in a foreign country from where they were born, they’re trying to get to a country, and then they’re being faced with all the bureaucratic hurdles that go along with being a refugee. And now a US administration that is overtly hostile to the idea of refugees, and by extension the US administration by that hostility is kind of dragging the entire international refugee apparatus down with it.

17:40 Adam Bates: So, insofar as I said, this is a bad time to be doing refugee policy, it’s an immeasurably worse time to be a refugee, and it just happens to be one of the worst refugee crises since since World War II. As I said, there are roughly, including the Palestinians, there are roughly 24 to 25 million people who are in this position, and maybe 1% of them according to the UN are gonna get resettled in a year. So that’s… It’s a terrible situation and that’s… So yeah, without getting into too many specifics about what our clients are dealing with, that kinda lays the groundwork.

18:15 Trevor Burrus: Where do they… While they’re waiting for their appeal, [18:20] ____ present themselves at the border? Or they come in on a flight and then do they claim refugee status, and then they have to go through the process of getting paperwork and showing that they deserve refugee status? Is that kind of how it works? Or do they do it before they come into the border?

18:33 Adam Bates: So what you’ve just described are basically asylum seekers?

18:35 Trevor Burrus: Asylum, okay.

18:38 Adam Bates: So it’s easy to get… It’s fun to think why these things are called different things, but…

18:42 Trevor Burrus: Well, I guess asylum has that old thing like going… Running into a church and yelling asylum or something like that, right? So but I see… So refugees they went to the embassy or something in Kabul or something and applied for refugee status?

18:57 Adam Bates: Yeah, just to clarify, if they’re in the United States and they say, “You can’t send me out because of I fear… ” Then that person is an asylum seeker, and we have a different process for asylum adjudication. So just because that’s a common confusion. So our clients, refugees, are people who are physically located outside the United States. And the way this typically works, you can go to an embassy and try to register as a refugee, the way it normally works is to present yourself to the UNHCR, and then the UNHCR does their own vetting of your story. And you receive a refugee status determination that says, “According to the United Nations, you are a refugee.” And then the UN goes through the process of trying to find… They prioritize all the people who have been designated as refugees, and then they try to find willing countries to accept these people.

19:51 Adam Bates: In the US context, once the UNHCR has referred them to the US, then the US Refugee Admissions Program, USRAP, starts all over. They basically start with the information gathering, the interviews, the vetting, the security checks, the US doesn’t just take the UN’s word for these things. By the time a refugee is referred from UNHCR to the US, and then is granted approval and arrives in the US, that person has been through immense vetting. They’re the best box checkers and paperwork people in the world, just because of how laborious this process is. And then if you’re not one of the lucky few who is resettled, or they can’t find a country or you’re inadmissible to the country, a lot of those people are in refugee camps, or they’re in those second countries where they’re still trying to get out. And again, their lives are kind of on hold, they can’t go home, they’re not permanently settled, they’re just there.

20:48 Aaron Ross Powell: What does it look like to present yourself to the UNHCR? Let’s say I’m in Syria, I’m a Syrian citizen, and I think that I am capable of claiming refugee status. They’re just like, is there some building that I walk over to? Do I have to hop on a flight, and manage to fly somewhere?

21:07 Adam Bates: I haven’t seen this first‐​hand yet, hopefully in the next year, I’ll get… As I said, we have field offices in Jordan and Lebanon, so hopefully, I’ll get to go see this for myself in the next year. So I don’t wanna say anything out of line here, but generally, the way this works is; you have to leave the country that you’re currently in, and obviously if it’s an active war zone, UNHCR and the US government may not even be doing interviews in that country. But so you would normally leave to a second country, so, so many… The biggest countries in terms of currently housing refugees, not resettling because they’re not there permanently. But Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, so Afghanistan and Syria, as people know, are producing a lot of refugees. So those neighboring countries, Turkey, has millions of Syrians or Afghans living in those countries…

22:00 Aaron Ross Powell: Who just fled across the border?

22:01 Adam Bates: Yeah, who came across the border, when the war broke out, and there… And so, at that point, that’s where you would present yourself to the UN, and you would say, “I’m a refugee from Syria, I’m a refugee from Afghanistan.” And then that’s where you would start with the information gathering and the interview processes. So yeah, when we talk about resettlement to the US, or the US being the largest resettlement country, which has been true for the entire history until this year, the US… Not only has the US been the largest resettlement country, until this year, the US has always resettled more refugees than the rest of the world combined. 2017 was the first time that didn’t happen. But so, that’s resettlement countries. When we talk about countries that are housing these people, I think something like between 17% and 23% of the population of Lebanon right now are refugees. I mean, just massive, massive refugee movements to these countries.

23:00 Trevor Burrus: Isn’t there a different problem with refugees than “voluntary immigration”? Where… I tell people all the time that the reason immigration works so well, is because the person who leaves a country voluntarily, like the person leaving Iran, not as a refugee, but saying, “I just wanna live in the United States,” is not an average Iranian. I think that’s the biggest mistake, they say, “Oh well, he’s just an average Iranian.” No, he wants to leave Iran and uproot his life or her life and learn a new language.” All these things that mean they really care about moving. But if you’re being pushed out of a country, then you’re not getting the same caliber, so to speak, of people as people who are voluntarily uprooting their lives. And so you could have a bunch of problematic people there who are refugees, but ultimately, may not really… They would rather be back in their country that’s a war‐​torn mess, and they don’t really wanna be in America, so they’re not actually the people that… I want immigrants, but I’m not necessarily would prioritize people who don’t wanna be in America as the immigrants I would take. And that would seem to be a problem you’d have with refugees.

24:05 Adam Bates: You mean the problem of having refugees end up in America who don’t actually want to be here.

24:11 Trevor Burrus: They left a place because it was so inhospitable, and they said, “Okay, I’ll go to America.”

24:14 Aaron Ross Powell: So maybe they’re less likely to assimilate, because they didn’t come here out of embracing American values or that sort of thing.

24:21 Adam Bates: Sure. I think that’s a concern that people have, but I think these are empirical questions, and these are issues that would show up in the data, in terms of crime, in terms of economic behavior, and I think we just don’t see that. IRAP is not really… Unlike when I worked at Cato, we’re not a research institution, we use a lot of outside research and some of the research… A lot of the research that I use, is research from the Cato Institute, from Alex Nowrasteh and David Bier, here at Cato. And I think they’ve done a phenomenal job of empirically showing the criminal data, the terrorism data, the security data, that just shows that not only are these people not threats, not only are they not criminals, but they’re more law‐​abiding than the native‐​born American citizens.

25:15 Adam Bates: So I think that’s something that’s… And it’s an interesting question to think of, some immigrants come here because they in their heart, they think I wanna be an American, and all of that. But how to compare that against a person who is fleeing a war‐​torn country and they’re fleeing for their lives, and they’re worried about their family safety, what does that person think when they get to somewhere where finally for the first… And for a lot of these people, for the first time in years and years, they’re safe, and they have a home, and they have a life, and they have a job.

25:47 Trevor Burrus: The stuff we take for granted.

25:48 Adam Bates: Right.

25:49 Trevor Burrus: We can Netflix and chill tonight, it’s fine.


25:52 Adam Bates: I think that too would be a very powerful force in people being happy with the situation they’re in. And I think if that weren’t the case, then we would see it in the data. We would see that there was a problem here, and we just don’t.

26:08 Aaron Ross Powell: But along those lines, you mentioned there were what, 25 million people, is that what you said, currently?

26:12 Trevor Burrus: It’s in the world.

26:12 Aaron Ross Powell: In the world seeking refugee status or seeking to be relocated. We can’t just let them all in, we couldn’t just say, “Okay, all 25 million can come here.” Even if they’re not a higher crime rate than the average American, that’s an awful lot of people. So how many is enough, and how do we decide which of those 25 million it makes sense to take on.

26:38 Adam Bates: Again, I feel like that’s an empirical question, and there probably is some science out there about the number of people that are given landmass and resources and all of that. But I would say the issue here is that the numbers we’re actually working with, are such an infinitesimal part of that, that I mean that’s really just an academic discussion. So the Refugee Act of 1980, basically created the legal framework that we use in the US for refugees today. That authorizes the President every year to make a determination of how many refugees… Basically a refugee cap for what the President anticipates will be taking in refugees.

27:19 Adam Bates: Over the course of that. So it’s 2018 over the 38 years of this program, the average refugee cap has been about 95,000. Whatever that higher number is, whether it’s 25 million, whether it’s… Whatever that number is, it’s higher than 95,000, so that’s our historical average. When President Trump made his first determination in 2017, he set a 45,000 refugee cap, which is the lowest cap in the history of… In that 38 years. And I checked right before I came over here, in terms of actual… So that’s the cap. I mean, it’s generally treated as a target. That’s usually what we would anticipate the number is gonna be. But right now, we’re almost to the end of the fiscal year, we have resettled something like 16,200 refugees, so we’re not even on pace to hit half of that historically low cap. So it’s almost…

28:16 Adam Bates: I don’t wanna say it’s funny, but to think about having a situation where we’re talking about how many refugees would it take before we were… We just can’t take any more refugees, we’re so far away from that. So yeah, I don’t know what the answer to that question is, but it’s a lot more… Certainly the United States has the capacity to absorb a lot more people. And I know, again, to refer to your colleague, Alex Nowrasteh, he’s done great work, for instance, on the Mariel boat lift in Cuba. When you did have these huge numbers of people showing up in a very short time frame, and it turns out it’s not that bad. The economic benefits are in fact positive.

28:50 Trevor Burrus: Or just fracking in North Dakota. Just suddenly 10,000 people came into town into a thousand person town, I mean kind of fracking.

28:58 Adam Bates: This is a big country, it’s a very big sparsely populated country. So again, I’m not an expert in population dynamics, but I don’t think that’s a concern that people really need to be worried about.

29:10 Trevor Burrus: I’d like to ask you about your history even before Cato, because there’s a Facebook post that you wrote on 9/11, three or four years ago, to describe what you were doing on 9/11 and sort of the path you went through to get here. And I’ve often shared it with people, and I think it’s a great story of how you… Eventually you couldn’t even stand on the sidelines anymore. And so far as Cato standing on the sidelines, and it doesn’t really get your hands dirty with helping real people out in that sense. What is that kind of path, at least in the abridged sense.

29:42 Adam Bates: Okay. So yeah, first I should say this is obviously me speaking and not IRAP here, but my own… Yeah, I grew up in Oklahoma, I grew up in a… I was born in Texas, I have to say. Genetically a Texan, I grew up in Oklahoma. But a vaguely Republican, mainstream Republican household. I mean, we weren’t socially conservative, but we weren’t Democrats ’cause they… Taxes and whatever. So after 9/11 happened, my perception of the world at that point was the United States is good and right. I was an exceptionalist. The United States is good and right, and the beacon on the hill, and we were minding our own business, and then these people came and did this horrible thing. So that really set me on the path, that’s when I got really interested in learning Arabic, that’s when I got interested in doing Middle East studies. At that time, the idea would have been to go work for the government and fight the bad guys, but it was really through that process, and through learning about the history of the US government’s behavior in the world, through meeting Muslims for the first time, and actually talking to people who knew so much more about these issues, and it was really learning about the US History in Afghanistan.

30:53 Adam Bates: Not to date myself, but I graduated high school, it was 2003. That was right in the Iraq War had just started and we’d been in Afghanistan. So that’s the backdrop of when I’m learning this stuff. And it was really when I learned about the history of the US in Afghanistan, and then actually interned at the Cato Institute doing foreign policy, that that kind of fell apart for me. So that was the point where I decided that I… Yeah, I really bought into libertarianism and this idea of universal rights, universal individual rights, and that basically the fundamental libertarian preset that people are people, and the equality under law as a universal idea, so that a person born in Juarez, and a person born a mile away in El Paso have the same rights. They have the same rights from the same source and they need to be respected. Or a person in Democratic Republic of Congo that is fleeing a war. So yeah, that’s what led me to Cato in the first place. That’s what created my interest in civil liberties.

32:00 Adam Bates: And then, as I said earlier, when the Muslim ban happened, that’s what really kinda set me off to think this is not, this is… Insofar as I think America exists as an aspiration, and we have these liberal ideas of what America should be. It was just offensive to me and that’s where I just thought that I don’t wanna be writing policy papers, not to… Present company.


32:26 Adam Bates: But that I wanted to get out and help people. And I thought I had the skill set to actually do that, and work in the field and represent clients, and so that’s why I’m here. So yeah, it was a long path and a circuitous route to this but yeah.

32:41 Trevor Burrus: So would 18‐​year‐​old Adam call you a liberal, liberal wimp who doesn’t properly appreciate America’s exceptionalism.

32:51 Adam Bates: Yes. And I’m glad that Facebook didn’t exist when I way 16, or 15 or 16‐​year‐​old. But that’s part of growing up and getting out of your town in Oklahoma and meeting new people and… Yeah, I’m more worried about what 32‐​year‐​old Adam thinks about what 18‐​year‐​old Adam thought. But yeah, that’s how I ended up here.

33:18 Aaron Ross Powell: Four of your years at Cato, you did Criminal Justice. Are there similarities? A lot of the work you do in criminal justice is… You were concerned about the way that this government apparatus, kind of uses its power directed against the powerless and under privileged frequently. The way that government kind of grinds down these people who don’t have a way out from under its boot. So are there… Did the work there help you? Are there similarities or parallels now moving into the way that the state interfaces with these refugees who are themselves like pretty powerless people.

33:57 Adam Bates: Yeah. Interestingly, I do think there are similarities, and I find myself calling on a lot of my experience doing criminal justice policy in my study of that. I think all of the things that we point out and that I worked on when I was here in the… All the institutional issues in the criminal justice system, about access to justice, access to council, due process rights, things like that. This refugee community… Our refugee system is what happens even when those imperfect institutions just simply don’t exist. These people, generally, they don’t get to see a judge, they’re not entitled to counsel when they do their interviews, they’re not entitled to counsel at all, unless they can find afford counsel or they have somebody like IRAP who represents them for free. And on top of that, these are people who like to a person are fleeing they had to pick up their life.

34:58 Adam Bates: Their entire experience is uncertain. They’re not secure in terms of their personal security, in terms of their personal safety, they can’t go home. These are people who are among the world’s most vulnerable people. And behind them, they have arrayed the forces of authoritarianism or religious extremism, and in front of them, they have the entire bureaucracy of the US government, and an administration that is overtly hostile to them. So I think in terms of being a libertarian, and being concerned about individual liberty, there’s no fight that’s more worth fighting to me than that, in terms of what libertarians say we care about, and the issues that we want to protect people from, people who are in a refugee situation are right at the heart of that. They have…

35:55 Trevor Burrus: They’re kind of sandwiched often between two governments, like two crappy government. Most of us only have to deal with one crappy government, but you have one at your back and one in front of you, you’re sitting in the middle of them.

36:05 Adam Bates: Right. And you’re interacting with United Nations, which is this gigantic sprawling apparatus. You’re in a second country, then you’re dealing with that government, you’re trying to present yourself to a third government. In terms of protecting people from government…

36:21 Trevor Burrus: That’s about as much as you can get, yes. So, you given your… Oklahoma, I have a lot of experience with Oklahoma, my parents are from there. Given your Oklahoma background and sort of Oklahoma Republican, imagine you could speak at least speak fluent Oklahoma Republican to some extent, at least a bit. What has changed in the Republican attitude do you think, over the last few years toward people like refugees and immigrants.

36:48 Adam Bates: Yeah. I rarely feel that I’m shocked by anything anymore, but it is, it’s pretty shocking, just in terms of… As I think I alluded to earlier, for the longest time… Most of our Refugee Law came into being after World War II, that was the big idea that we need… Internationally, we need some way to deal with these kinds of things. But from the end of World War II, during the Cold War, the overwhelming majority of refugees who came to the US were fleeing communism. Now, there’s some politics involved in that. The US didn’t look as kindly on refugee applications from friendly governments. There’s a little politics there, but for the most part, it was generally understood in America, left‐​right, whatever, that we had an obligation and that it was a good thing.

37:42 Adam Bates: It was a net benefit to the United States, in addition to being a net benefit to the refugees, for people not to be living under those kind of regimes. For those regimes not to be able to benefit from the resources and productivity of those people. And that you can see that in the Republican Party for decades. You can go back and watch Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush, basically have this fight over who’s more supportive of immigrants. I think to see it now, where we’ve basically just abandoned the idea that, A, that we have an obligation to people, who are suffering under authoritarianism or whatever they’re suffering under, but also, that we’ve essentially… Or at least a lot of people who used to advocate this as a strategic issue have somehow forgotten that argument, that we don’t want people living under ISIS, we don’t want Christians being persecuted in Iran, we don’t want people living under these situations.

38:42 Adam Bates: So, not only can we deprive these authoritarian regimes of their resources, but we gain a resource ourselves in the productivity of these people, and the data is very clear on this. There was a report that actually was produced under the Trump administration, analyzing the economic impact of the refugee program on the US economy, from I think, 2004 to 2015, I wanna say. And it showed that the net economic impact of the refugee program was like plus $63 billion or something. There’s no question that in terms of economics, this is a benefit. There’s no question that in terms of the refugees themselves, this is a benefit. So, yeah, it is disappointing, and there has been a huge shift in the way people, especially on the right, but just in general, have kind of shifted their attitude. When people used to show up from Cuba, they just got to stay. We knew that people shouldn’t be living under Castro, somehow, we’ve lost that. We don’t have that same approach to people who are currently suffering under the Islamic state or any other authoritarian regime. So yeah, it’s interesting to see how that’s changed over the years.

39:52 Aaron Ross Powell: You think is part of that, I guess, demographic shifts and cultural anxiety? That it’s one thing to be accepting of people who are different from you, when people who are like you are the dominant majority. And so these new people exist always on the periphery, but as we tip closer and closer likewise within next decade or so, I think.

40:15 Trevor Burrus: When white people become non‐​majority.

40:17 Aaron Ross Powell: When whites become the non‐​majority.

40:17 Trevor Burrus: I am not sure when, but it will be…

40:20 Aaron Ross Powell: It’s coming up.

40:21 Trevor Burrus: Coming up.

40:22 Aaron Ross Powell: That whites become more and more anxious about people who don’t look like them, don’t speak like them, have different belief systems, whatever else coming in.

40:36 Adam Bates: So, again, I would go back and almost chuckle at that, and compare in terms of relating that viewpoint or conception of society to the actual tiny numbers of people that we’re talking about. If another 25,000 refugees is gonna make the difference then…

40:53 Trevor Burrus: It’s not a voting block, yeah.

40:56 Adam Bates: Right. I’m not concerned. No concern about the refugee voting block, I think, would be very legitimate. I also think the more alienating and hostile we are… Those are things that make it harder for people to assimilate. And this has become a problem in some places in Europe, where they take asylum seekers, they take immigrants, they take refugees, but then they make it very difficult for them to work, they make it difficult for them to lead normal lives and assimilate. Generally, we don’t do that in this country. We make it pretty easy for people to assimilate, and it would be a shame for us to go the wrong direction there. I also think that that argument has always been there. That argument about demographics, even when the immigrants were majority white, when they were Irish or when they were Italians, they weren’t considered white at the time. We changed the definition of white after the fact, but there’s always been that argument. I don’t know if either of you have been to the Ellis Island Museum in New York. It’s a great museum, and there’s some subversive libertarian elements that I was surprised by, like…

42:05 Trevor Burrus: It’s very powerful.

42:06 Adam Bates: Some rooms that were celebrating people who helped turn people’s coats inside out, so they wouldn’t see the marks on them. Or translators who intentionally mistranslated so that people wouldn’t be deported. But one of the rooms at the Ellis Island Museum, is just a collection of basically nativist anti‐​immigrant cartoons, and statements and things from the Know‐​Nothing Party over history. And just the most shocking thing in that room is that you know this, you’ve seen these arguments, you read them in the newspaper, you read them on Facebook. Fundamentally, the anti‐​immigrant argument has not changed in 150 years, and I don’t think that position is any more legitimate now than it was then. [chuckle] I think that argument has proven that it’s not correct, that people don’t have anything to worry about from these people, and insofar as we have data, the data backs up that presumption.

43:02 Trevor Burrus: What can individual, normal, so to speak, people, because you’re clearly not normal.


43:08 Trevor Burrus: What can individual people…

43:09 Aaron Ross Powell: People who aren’t involved in policy or attorneys?

43:09 Trevor Burrus: People who aren’t involved in policy do to help refugees?

43:15 Adam Bates: Unlike some countries like Canada, there really is no private sponsorship in the United States. A lot of this stuff is happening at the political and policy level, where it can seem inaccessible to people. But people always have the normal routes of contacting their legislators of… And especially because this is largely a federal issue. The states don’t have a lot to say. States can do things like provide in‐​state tuition for refugees, they can make public statements and things like that. But in terms of what the law and the policy actually look like, so much of this is happening not just not at the state level, but happening thousands of miles away and happening in the White House, it’s tough.

43:55 Adam Bates: I think expressing support. I think getting legislators involved. I think supporting organizations that are doing this work are probably the best things people can do. After the Muslim ban came down and you saw all the lawyers and people show up at the airports, people got into the country who otherwise would not. People had their rights vindicated who otherwise would not have. So I do think there’s a place for direct action, but I think for the normal person, who’s not gonna show up at Dulles at 2:00 in the morning. Yeah, I think just being a public advocate for this, for America’s obligation for human rights, I think that’s the best thing that people can do.


44:38 Trevor Burrus: Thanks for listening. Free Thoughts is produced by Tess Terrible. If you enjoy Free Thoughts, please rate and review us on iTunes. To learn more, visit us on the web at www​.lib​er​tar​i​an​ism​.org.