Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert from the Cato Institute. Wikimedia Commons | Courtesy


Immigration advocate Alex Nowrasteh came to Hillsdale to discuss immigration in a talk titled “Why the best argument against immigration is still wrong,” on Nov. 16.

Nowrasteh is a leading immigration expert at the Cato Institute and has traditionally been in favor of immigration, seeing it as a net benefit for the country.

Nowrasteh opened his lecture with an appeal to his own fallibility.

“One of the things I’m obsessed with beside social sciences is whether I’m wrong or not,” Nowrasteh said. “I spent my career [about nine years or so] on the topic of immigration at the Cato Institute. I’ve been arguing on peer review evidence and academic journals that immigration is a huge positive for the immigrants for Americans, for our economy and society as a whole.”

Nowrasteh has seriously considered arguments against immigration and continues to keep an open mind.

“If the facts change I will change my mind,” Nowrasteh said. “I don’t want to die on a hill of principle for no reason.”

The talk was heavily centered on economic arguments to make Nowrasteh’s case. Nowrasteh discussed wage premiums, exogenous shocks, and other economic terms in depth during the lecture. Nowrasteh used one particular example of the immigration of about 1 million Soviet Jews into Israel in the 1990s. Nowrasteh believes this is a perfect case study of diverse immigrants not leading to a country’s demise.

While Nowrasteh provided many economic arguments for why immigration is a net benefit, he explained why various arguments regarding culture are less than compelling.

According to Nowrasteh, the social division caused by immigration would keep government small in the country and limit the welfare system.  

“Diversity introduces less solidarity. As a result of less solidarity people like each other a little bit less. We want to help each other a little bit less. The good thing from this is that means we also don’t vote for welfare as much,” Nowrasteh said. “If you don’t like people around you as much as you use to, you are less likely to vote for policies to help them. This is one of the reasons why the largest, most complex welfare states are in homogenous countries. You would call this the positive externality of racism.”

Nowrasteh spent the rest of the evening systematically going through the arguments against immigration, and ended with what he considered to be the best argument against immigration.

“The best argument against immigration is that they will somehow kill the economic goose that lays the golden eggs by overturning institutions or whatever makes us wealthy. In the long term, potential costs of immigration outweigh the large, immediate, huge economic benefits of it.” Nowrasteh said. “I believe that the historical evidence, the economic freedom score evidence, exogenous shock data, policy opinions, assimilation evidence, and a lot of recent case studies in American history suggest probably not. I am fairly confident that they won’t.”

Some audience members did not find Nowrasteh’s argument to be completely satisfying.

“The issue that I have with Nowrasteh is the premise that he starts with,” senior Razi Lane said. “If you start with the premise that economics should drive all areas of public policy and then you evaluate your culture kind of in the sense that fracturing is actually a good thing and that a fractured society is the best society just because it leads to smaller government, I think it’s too narrow of a view.”

Others, however, found the use of data and economic indicators to track the success of immigrants particularly persuasive.

“I had slightly different opinions on what he was bringing up and his opinions but he’s fairly convincing in his arguments,” junior Marcus Koperski said. “It was very informative. The data collection he had with regards to whether or not it changed economic freedom when immigrants came into the culture is definitely something I’m going to look into.”