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Cato immigration expert refutes popular reasons against immigration reform

At his talk at the International Students for Liberty Conference, Alex Nowrasteh — an immigration policy expert at the Cato Institute — talked to young libertarians about America’s immigration problem and why it needs to be changed. He voiced some of the biggest reasons against immigration reform and explained why they are wrong and misguided.

Here were two of the biggest arguments against immigration reform.

Free immigration would put too great a burden on the welfare system

Actually, illegal aliens can’t get welfare, except for immediate emergency medical care. That’s been established since the beginning. Poor, legal immigrants are less likely to use services like TANF, Medicaid, CHIP and SSI than native-born Americans — sometimes as little as half as much — even when eligible. Furthermore, the average dollar amount spent on providing welfare for immigrants who do use welfare is lower.

The benefits that immigrants bring to our economy far outweigh the cost. Immigrants are predominantly either high skilled or low skilled. Most native-born Americans are right in the middle, so there’s less job competition than conventional wisdom states. Immigrants are also more entrepreneurial and more mobile. They move to capitalize on states that are experiencing growth, like Texas, not to leech off states that are mitigating crises through social spending, like New York.

That also means that the impact immigrants have on wages is actually not felt by natives, because the competing industries are so different. Immigrants actually pose a greater threat to unions than they do to individuals, which is something few Democrats know and even fewer admit.

This table, from a study by Cato and confirmed by the CBO, shows the net fiscal impact of individual immigrants – the taxes they put into the system against the benefits they would collect over the course of their lives.

Less than High School High School More than High School
Age 20




Age 21




Age 41

– $141,000

– $32,000


In other words, most immigrants will put a lot more into the system than they will take out.

The welfare state primarily benefits the sick, the elderly and women. Most immigrants are healthy, young and men. And the welfare expenditures our government undertakes on those it’s designed to help dwarf that which is spent on immigrants by comparison.

If the entire world had more open immigration policies, global economic output would increase by as little as 50 percent, or $29 trillion, to as much as 150 percent, $87 trillion. With the insolvency of America’s welfare state being what it is, more open immigration policies would actually delay our bankruptcy, not hasten it.

Immigrants increase the rate of crime and may cause terrorism

Immigrants are, on the whole, less likely to commit violent crimes or property crimes than U.S.-born Americans.

This is a table of the incarceration rate in America.


U.S. Born 3.51%
Foreign Born .86%
Non-Hispanic Whites 1.71%
Blacks 11.6%

As for terrorism, since 9/11, there were 37 cases of deportation for reasons pertaining to terrorism.

In California and Arizona — states where Hispanic immigrants are 38 percent of the population — there has been an inverse relationship between immigration and crime since 1980. Dozens of neighborhoods have actually been uplifted and cleaned up because of immigration.

Ultimately, Nowrasteh’s point was that our current laws on immigration are broken and reflect on attitudes antithetical to American values. Immigrants are mostly apolitical until they feel their own liberty under attack — usually because of Republicans — causing them to join the Progressive alliance. But immigrants, particularly the entrepreneurial ones, have a lot more in common with fiscal conservatives. They should probably be on their side.

That’s why there should be a greater conservative coalition of support behind Marco Rubio and the ‘Gang of Eight’ immigration plan that creates more guest worker visas in high skilled industry and agriculture.

Evolving on immigration won’t solve all of America’s problems, and it won’t even fix the likability problem Republicans are suffering from right now, but the Party needs to embrace the opportunity to make this country freer and better.

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