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.”