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It’s no secret that war has been declared on for-profit colleges. The question is whether the war is justifiable. I don’t think it is—the evidence strongly suggests that all of higher ed is broken—but I also think it is very hard for the public, in any individual case, to know whether a college accused of wrongdoing is really awful, or the target of politicians trying to make names for themselves. But just accusing a school of predatory behavior hurts it, generating lots of bad press, encouraging more suits and investigations, and usually resulting in schools settling with government accusers without admitting guilt, maybe to stop the PR and financial bleeding, maybe because they think they’re guilty and that’s the best they can get. Regardless, there is clearly an imbalance of power between taxpayer-funded accusers and the accused.

New federal regulations look like they’ll make the problem of accusation-equals-sentence worse. The Wall Street Journal has a lengthy piece looking at the broad potential ramifications of the regs, but one part of the US Department of Education regulation summary caught my eye: Schools would have to automatically “put up funds, in the form of letters of credit (LOCs), that total at least 10 percent of the amount of Title IV funds received by the school over the previous year” if “a state or federal government entity such as an attorney general, the CFPB, or the FTC brings a major suit against the school.” In other words, the moment any government entity, including the unchained Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, accuses a school of wrongdoing, the punishment begins.

This punishment could easily trigger a cascade of trouble, with the need for a letter of credit scaring off investors, bad publicity scaring off students, and a school suffering financially as a result. That school could then be targeted by the Department of Education for being even more of a financial risk, and the death spiral would become inescapable. This is not too far off from what seems to have happened to Corinthian College. Corinthian was, importantly, ultimately found guilty of fraud, but that rare guilty verdict was rendered after Corinthian was no more and had no one to defend it in court.

It is, to be sure, hard to feel too sorry for the for-profit sector. It does have poor outcomes, and is heavily dependent on students paying with government dough. That said, there is also a good bit of evidence that it is no worse, controlling for student challenges, than other higher ed sectors. And it is very easy to imagine politicians—human beings likely as self-interested as the average for-profit school owner or employee—going after for-profit schools because it is politically easy.

These proposed regulations look like they will stack the deck even more against for-profit colleges.

I recently wrote in The Hill on Donald Trump’s fiscal plan. The graph below clarifies some of my comments.

Estimates purporting to show the new, evolving Trump/Ryan Tax Reform must “lose trillions” over 10-20 years are usually static – meaning they assume lower marginal tax rates on labor and capital have zero effect on economic growth or tax avoidance.  Yet that is a relatively small part of the problem.

Even if static estimates made any sense, the alleged revenue losses would still be wildly exaggerated because they compare estimated revenues from reform plans with “baseline” revenues projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  

As the graph shows, CBO projections pretend that revenues from the existing individual income tax will somehow rise as a share of GDP every year –forever– reaching levels never before seen in U.S. history, even in World War II. 

Real wages in the CBO forecast supposedly rise so rapidly that more and more middle-income taxpayers are pushed into higher and higher tax brackets.  Since tax reform eliminates the highest tax brackets, it thwarts these sneaky tax increases and thus appears to “lose money.” But the CBO’s phantom projections are sheer fantasy and no basis for rejecting sensible tax reforms to encourage more business investment and greater labor force participation.


My colleague David Bier has a wonderful new blog post where he argues that the government has systematically under-issued employment-based (EB) green cards since 1992.  In essence, his argument is that Congress intended for the small number of EB green cards (140,000 annually) to only be issued to the workers themselves.  In practice, however, the government has issued the majority of them to the family members of the workers.  Bier argues that the practice of issuing EB green cards to family members has no statutory basis and that it runs contrary to Congress’ intent which was to exempt the spouses and minor children from the cap altogether.  This change would more than double the number of EB green cards available for workers.  Importantly, this error in interpretation can be corrected immediately by this or the next administration.  Do read the entire post for more details. 

Altering the way that EB green cards are counted would more than double the number of them issued to workers every year while actually making it easier for the families of skilled workers to follow their breadwinners. 

From 1992 to 2014, only 46 percent of all EB green cards were issued to workers while the rest were used by their family members.  During that time, approximately 1.7 million additional EB green cards for skilled workers could have been issued if the administrations had followed Bier’s correct interpretation and appropriately counted against the cap.  There is also the possibility that the government could “recapture” the EB green cards issued to family members in the past and properly issue them to skilled workers today.  

This is a reform that the administration could act on immediately and Bier has provided the support.           

Okay, I’ll admit the title of this post is an exaggeration. There are lots of things you should know - most bad, though some good - about international bureaucracies.

That being said, regular readers know that I get very frustrated with the statist policy agendas of both the International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

I especially object to the way these international bureaucracies are cheerleaders for bigger government and higher tax burdens. Even though they ostensibly exist to promote greater levels of prosperity!

I’ve written on these issues, ad nauseam, but perhaps dry analysis is only part of what’s needed to get the message across. Maybe some clever image can explain the issue to a broader audience (something I’ve done before with cartoons and images about the rise and fall of the welfare state, the misguided fixation on income distribution, etc).

It took awhile, but I eventually came up with (what I hope is) a clever idea. And when a former Cato intern with artistic skill, Jonathan Babington-Heina, agreed to do me a favor and take the concept in my head and translate it to paper, here are the results.

I think this hits the nail on the head.

Excessive government is the main problem plaguing the global economy. But the international bureaucracies, for all intents and purposes, represent governments. The bureaucrats at the IMF and OECD need to please politicians in order to continue enjoying their lavish budgets and exceedingly generous tax-free salaries.

So when there is some sort of problem in the global economy, they are reluctant to advocate for smaller government and lower tax burdens (even if the economists working for these organizations sometimes produce very good research on fiscal issues).

Instead, when it’s time to make recommendations, they push an agenda that is good for the political elite but bad for the private sector. Which is exactly what I’m trying to demonstrate in the cartoon,

But let’s not merely rely on a cartoon to make this point.

In an article for the American Enterprise Institute, Glenn Hubbard and Kevin Hassett discuss the intersection of economic policy and international bureaucracies. They start by explaining that these organizations would promote jurisdictional competition if they were motivated by a desire to boost growth.

…economic theory has a lot to say about how they should function. …they haven’t achieved all of their promise, primarily because those bodies have yet to fully understand the role they need to play in the interconnected world. The key insight harkens back to a dusty economics seminar room in the early 1950s, when University of Michigan graduate student Charles Tiebout…said that governments could be driven to efficient behavior if people can move. …This observation, which Tiebout developed fully in a landmark paper published in 1956, led to an explosion of work by economists, much of it focusing on…many bits of evidence that confirm the important beneficial effects that can emerge when governments compete. …A flatter world should make the competition between national governments increasingly like the competition between smaller communities. Such competition can provide the world’s citizens with an insurance policy against the out-of-control growth of massive and inefficient bureaucracies.

Using the European Union as an example, Hubbard and Hassett point out the grim results when bureaucracies focus on policies designed to boost the power of governments rather than the vitality of the market.

…as Brexit indicates, the EU has not successfully focused solely on the potentially positive role it could play. Indeed, as often as not, one can view the actions of the EU government as being an attempt to form a cartel to harmonize policies across member states, and standing in the way of, rather than advancing, competition. …an EU that acts as a competition-stifling cartel will grow increasingly unpopular, and more countries will leave it.

They close with a very useful suggestion.

If the EU instead focuses on maximizing mobility and enhancing the competition between states, allowing the countries to compete on regulation, taxation, and in other policy areas, then the union will become a populist’s dream and the best economic friend of its citizens.

Unfortunately, I fully expect this sage advice to fall upon deaf ears. The crowd in Brussels knows that their comfortable existence is dependent on pleasing politicians from national governments.

And the same is true for the bureaucrats at the IMF and OECD.

The only practical solution is to have national governments cut off funding so the bureaucracies disappear.

But, to cite just one example, why would Obama allow that when these bureaucracies go through a lot of effort to promote his statist agenda?

Imagine life in isolation, waking every morning before sunrise to make your own clothes, build and repair your meager shelter, hunt and harvest your own food, concoct rudimentary salves for what physically ails you, and attend to the upkeep of your brutish existence engaging in other difficult and tedious tasks. Forget leisure or luxuries; all of your time would be consumed trying to produce basic necessities merely to subsist.

Fortunately, that’s no longer the way most of humanity organizes its economic activities. We don’t attempt to make everything we need or want to consume, but instead specialize in a few, or a couple, or just one value-added endeavor – one profession. This specialization is possible because we accept and embrace the concept of cooperation in the form of exchange. We realize that by specializing, we can focus our efforts on what we do best, and produce more value than would be possible if we had to attend to the production of all of our needs and wants. Because we can exchange our output (monetized in the forms of wages and salaries) for the output of others, we don’t even have to know the first thing about hammering a nail, mixing mortar, making thread, yarn, and cloth, threading a needle, whittling an arrow to kill a deer, or any of the details of the incredibly complex processes and supply chains that generate the products and services we consume daily.  Fortunately (but sadly, too), most of us never give it a second thought.  

If two people focusing their efforts on the tasks they do best and exchanging their daily surpluses enables both to consume more or better quality output, then it should readily follow that four people or eight or eighty or eight million participating in this cooperative economic relationship can lead to much higher volumes of output (wealth) and much greater consumption and savings (higher living standards).  This is the purpose of exchange. It enables us to specialize.  And when there are more participants in the market (more with whom to exchange) there is greater scope for more refined levels of specialization. That means greater opportunities to match individuals’ precise skills and faculties (or to cultivate then match those precise skills and faculties) with increasingly specialized tasks and professions created in response to the increasingly refined demands of societies as they produce even greater wealth and higher living standards. 

We’ve come a long way from exchanging cloth and wine.  No longer are people’s choices restricted to being sober and clothed or naked and drunk. Today, we can almost have it all. Whereas once there were witchdoctors serving as generalist medical practitioners, today (in Washington, DC, I am told) there is burgeoning demand for the services of psychiatrists who specialize in treating the emotional and psychological adjustment costs associated with being an expat spouse of a foreign diplomat from Western Europe.  It’s become that specialized. Imagine hearing: “Sorry, my specialty is in talking spouses of diplomats through their neuroses brought on by resettling in Washington from places like Stockholm, Amsterdam, Paris, or London.  Since you’re from Warsaw, let me recommend a different specialist who focuses on treating Polish ex-pats with similar conditions.”

The purpose of exchange is to enable each of us to focus our productive efforts on what we do best.  By specializing in an occupation — instead of allocating small portions of our time to the impossible task of producing each of the necessities and luxuries we wish to consume — and exchanging the monetized output we produce most efficiently for the goods and services we produce less efficiently, we are able to produce and consume more output than would be the case in the absence of specialization and trade. The larger the size of the market, the greater is the scope for specialization, exchange, and economic growth.

Free trade is the extension of free markets across political borders.  Enlarging markets in this manner – to integrate more buyers, sellers, investors and workers – enables more refined specialization and economies of scales, which lead to greater wealth and higher living standards. When goods, services, capital, and labor flow freely across borders, Americans can take full advantage of the opportunities of the international marketplace.

The purpose of trade is to enable us to specialize; the purpose of specialization is to enable us to produce more; the purpose of producing more is to enable us to consume more.  More and better consumption is the purpose of trade. Thus, the benefits of trade come from imports, which deliver more competition, greater variety, lower prices, better quality, and innovation. The real benefits of trade are measured by the value of imports that can be purchased with a unit of exports — the so-called terms of trade. When we transact at the local supermarket, we seek to maximize the value we obtain by getting the most for our dollars.

But when it comes to trading across borders or when our individual transactions are aggregated at the national level, we seem to forget these basic principles and assume the goal of exchange is to achieve a trade surplus. We forget that trade barriers at home raise the costs and reduce the amount of imports that can be purchased with a unit of exports.  U.S. trade barriers hurt U.S. citizens, as consumers, taxpayers, workers, producers, and investors. Americans would be better off if we simply undertook our own reforms – on tariffs, regulations, and other artificial impediments to commerce – without regard for what other government’s do. Yet we don’t.

Although tariffs and other trade barriers have been reduced considerably since the end of the Second World War, U.S. policy continues to accommodate egregious amounts of protectionism.  We have “Buy American” rules that restrict most government procurement spending to U.S. suppliers, ensuring that taxpayers get the smallest bang for their buck; heavily protected services industries, such as air transportation and shipping, that drive up the cost of everything; apparently interminable farm subsidies; quotas and high tariffs on imported sugar; high tariffs on basic consumer products, such as clothing and footwear; energy export restrictions; the market-distorting cronyism of the Export-Import bank; antidumping duties that strangle downstream industries and tax consumers; regulatory protectionism masquerading as public health and safety precautions; protectionist rules of origin and local content requirements that limit trade’s benefits; restrictions on foreign investment, and so on.

It is sad, but true, that Congress seems to have forgotten why we trade.

For decades, the government has cut the number of immigrants far below what Congress authorized. Since 1990, every administration has misinterpreted the law, counting the spouses and children of legal immigrants against the limits on immigration when the statute lacks the requirement. This has cut the available slots for high-skilled workers in half, creating endless delays as they wait to obtain permanent residency in the United States.

Immigrants qualify for visas to come to the United States by meeting various requirements (college degree, family connections, etc.) and by having an employer or U.S. resident to sponsor them. Those who meet the requirements—the primary applicants—can also bring their spouses and minor children—the derivative applicants. The law limits immigration to no more than 226,000 visas for family members of U.S. citizens, 140,000 for employees of U.S. business, and 55,000 for diversity immigrants from areas that send few immigrants here. The question is: should only primary applicants count against those caps or should their families be counted against them as well?

In 1990, the Bush administration decided that the spouses and children should count against the cap. This has had a particularly acute effect in the employer-sponsored categories, where a majority of the 140,000 visas are used by spouses and children instead of workers. In 2014, for example, 56 percent of immigrants admitted under the “employer-sponsored” immigration categories were actually family members of the workers. Whenever a spouse or child uses one of the 140,000 visas, they take spots away from workers who applied after them, delaying them from getting their visas. 

Counting spouses and children ignores the plain reading of the law

The problem with what the Bush administration did is that the law contains no requirement to count families against the visa limits. Here, for example, is the relevant part of the statute (subsection (b) of 8 U.S.C. 1153) that designates 40,000 visas for the highest skilled workers:

(1) Priority Workers.—Visas shall first be made available in a number not to exceed 28.6 percent of such worldwide level [40,000]… to qualified immigrants who are aliens described in any of the following subparagraphs (A) through (C):
    (A) Aliens with extraordinary ability…
    (B) Outstanding professors and researchers…
    (C) Certain multinational executives and managers…

The plain reading of the statute is that those 40,000 visas are meant for “aliens with extraordinary ability,” “outstanding professors and researchers,” and “multinational executives and managers”—not for their spouses and children. Congress provided visas for spouses and children in a separate subsection (subsection (d) of 8 U.S.C. 1153). Here that is:

(d) Treatment of Family Members.—A spouse or child… shall, if not otherwise entitled to an immigrant status and the immediate issuance of a visa under subsection (a) [for family members], (b) [for workers] or (c) [for diversity immigrants], be entitled to the same status, and the same order of consideration provided in the respective subsection, if accompanying or following to join, the spouse or parent.

What this provision says is that because spouses and children are not entitled to status as workers, they are entitled to status under this provision as spouses and children of workers. And here’s the critical part: this provision does not apply the worldwide limit onimmigration to these workers. We know that it is not saying that spouses and children should receive status as if they were workers under the subsection that has limits because, although it applies the “order of consideration provided in the respective subsection” to the spouse and children, it doesn’t apply the limits on visas provided in that subsection.  

Moreover, it’s not clear how, if families were subject to the limitation and treated as workers, they could even be guaranteed “the same order of consideration.” If a worker in line received their green card as the 140,000th person in line, then their family could not receive the exact same order of consideration. They would have to wait until next year. This actually does happen under the current system, which flies in the face of the statute’s clear language.

Lastly, in addition to the total number of visas for the world, Congress also created limits for countries. No more than 7 percent of the visas can be taken by immigrants from any particular country. Spouses and children are explicitly included under the per-country limits, but this does not mean that they are subject to the worldwide limits. We know this because the reverse is true. The statute (8 U.S.C. 202) never applies the per-country limits to diversity visa beneficiaries, meaning that it would be incorrect to conflate the two types of limits.  

Another sign that Congress saw the two types of limits differently is that Congress was afraid that the per-country limits, but not the worldwide limits, might separate parents from their children. It created special rules to try to prevent separation from happening under the per-country limit, such that children can borrow the numbers of a different country than the one in which they were born to avoid hitting the limit. (A child born in India to an Indian mother and a Swedish father, for example, could be counted against the Swedish per-country limit instead of the backlogged Indian limit.) Congress could have created a similar scheme—borrowing from future years—to prevent separation due to the worldwide limits, but it knew it didn’t need to: families were guaranteed visas at the same time.

Counting spouses and children was not what Congress intended

The language about spouses and children being “entitled to the same status and same order of consideration” had been in immigration law since 1965, and they were counted against the cap. But in the Immigration Act of 1965, the language was included under the subsection that limited the number of visas:

(a) Aliens who are subject to the numerical limitations specified in section 201(a) shall be allotted visas… as follows:
     (1) Visas shall be first made available, in a number not to exceed [10,000]… to qualified immigrants who are unmarried sons or daughters of citizens of the United States…

It then listed 7 more categories of immigrants in the same way before stating:

    (9) A spouse or child… shall, if not otherwise entitled to an immigrant status and the immediate issuance of a visa or conditional entry under paragraphs (1) through (8) be entitled to the same status and the same order of consideration… if accompanying, or following to join, his spouse or parent.

Thus, a spouse or child are allotted visas as “aliens who are subject to the numerical limitations.” In 1990, Congress removed paragraph (9) from the subsection applying the worldwide limits and made it its own subsection, removing it from the cap on visas.

But here is the smoking gun of congressional intent: Congress set aside 12,000 visas for workers from Hong Kong, 1,000 for displaced Tibetans, and 40,000 for transitional diversity beneficiaries. Each time, it stated that spouses and children were “entitled to the same status and same order of consideration” without including them under the special new visa caps. But in early FY 1992, just after the 1990 act was implemented, Congress amended the law to apply those limits to their families, specifying that the visa numbers were for any alien admitted as, for example, a displaced Tibetan “or as the spouse or child of such an alien.”

Congress understood that the plain reading of that language would have exempted the spouses and children from being counted, and so it amended the law specifically to include them. It did not do so for the other categories of visas—employer, family, or diversity. Again, this strongly implies that Congress wanted spouses and children not to be counted against the caps.

The original House version of the 1990 act made three changes dealing with spouses and children of immigrants. In addition to taking the “entitled to the same status” language out of the numerically limited subsection, it explicitly exempted existing spouses and children of employer-sponsored immigrants initially coming to the United States, while allowing all legal permanent residents (LPRs) already in the country to bring new spouses and children to the United States without any limits.

In combining the House and Senate bills, the conference committee—made up of key members from both the chambers—kept the “entitled to the same status” language, while dropping the language on explicitly exempting families of employer-sponsored immigrants and the broader exemption for new spouses and children. It makes sense to remove the explicit employer-sponsored exemption if the first change—moving the “entitled to the same status” out of the numerical limitation subsection—had already exempted them along with diversity and family-sponsored immigrants. It would have been duplicative, and Congress wanted to treat them all equally.

Removing the broader exemption for all LPRs already in the country is consistent with the view that Congress wanted to keep existing families together—whether they were diversity-, employer-, or family-based immigrants—when they initially entered, but not allow immigrants already in the country to bring new families without a limit.

Statements from the law’s drafters support not counting spouses and children

Former-Congressman Bruce Morrison, the author of the House bill, has argued for this change, but the most telling evidence that Congress intended to exempt spouses and children who initially enter with immigrants comes from opponents of the broader provision exempting spouses and children of immigrants already in the country. When Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), ranking member on the House immigration subcommittee, proposed an amendment to strip the broader provision, he made this distinction:

The change… goes beyond the unification of existing families. It rewards less compelling cases of family-connected immigration. That is, an alien who starts a family outside the United States after having emigrated to the United States. In this instance, an alien enters without immediate family, then marries someone from the home country, and petitions for their entry before the principal alien becomes a citizen. I do not find this instance compelling enough to create a whole new immigration entitlement.

Sen. Alan Simpson (R-WY), ranking member on the Senate immigration subcommittee, made the same point in outlining his objection to the House bill. He envisioned a system where “as long as the spouse and children were in existence at the time the alien was issued the visa, they may enter when they wish, without restriction,” where the House bill “creates an entitlement to immediate immigrant visas for aliens who go abroad and start new families after those aliens have been granted permanent residence in the United States.”

So the best interpretation of the conference committee changes is that those who advocated for it—led by Sen. Simpson and Rep. Smith—were okay with allowing the spouses and children of diversity-, family-, and employer-based immigrants to receive unfettered access to the United States when they initially entered, but opposed a provision allowing for immigrants who later married or had children. Both Smith and Simpson said this arrangement was to encourage immigrants who are already here to apply for citizenship, while not separating current families coming here for the first time.

The Bush administration never issued regulations interpreting the statute. The State Department just made rules that quoted the “entitled to the same status” language. When the law came into effect in FY 1992, the administration continued to issue visas the same way as it had before. During the debate over the bills, it issued a statement supporting only “a modest increase in the number of legal immigrants” and favoring the less expansive Senate bill. We know it also opposed the broader exemption for immigrants already in the country, so it’s possible that it decided to adopt a restrictive view for those initially coming as well.

These facts cannot help but lead to the conclusion that four administrations have cut legal immigration to half the level that Congress authorized and that high skilled workers have been cheated for decades. President Obama has four months to correct this mistake. Immigrants shouldn’t die waiting for visas that they already have every legal right to.

Today, the U.S. Department of Justice released its report on the Baltimore Police Department. As expected, they found “patterns and practices” that lead to unconstitutional policing in the City and that these adversely and disproportionately affect black Baltimoreans.

The report describes a litany of offenses and violations of basic decency perpetrated by the Baltimore Police. Each of those stories is important, but for now, I want to focus on the primary source of the violations described: unconstitutional and other investigatory stops.

The DOJ found that between January 2010 and May 2015, the Baltimore Police made at least 300,000 pedestrian stops—a number the DOJ says is almost certainly too low because of police underreporting. Forty-four percent of these stops were made in two majority black districts of Baltimore that comprise only 11 percent of the City’s population. They found hundreds of people who were stopped more than ten times during that period, 95 percent of whom were black.

One man in his 50s was stopped over 30 times in four years and was never ticketed or arrested. That probably shouldn’t be surprising, as less than four percent of these stops ended in citations or arrest. And, recalling the recent dissents in the Supreme Court decision in Utah v. Strieff, it’s likely that many of those arrests were for outstanding warrants for unpaid parking tickets and other minor violations that had no connection to a potentially illegal activity that allegedly justified the stops in the first place. 

Moreover, the DOJ found at least 11,000 arrests by BPD were not prosecuted for lack of probable cause or other merit. Thousands more were detained for investigations and searches that went nowhere, with many people publicly strip-searched. One, even, was strip searched after being stopped for a broken taillight. Such unjustifiable actions serve no purpose other than public humiliation.

Black Baltimoreans were more likely to be charged with the most discretionary offenses—“failure to obey,” “trespassing,” “disorderly conduct,” and “loitering,”—and often without required notice that they were in violation of the law. Indeed, the DOJ wrote that “[r]acially disparate impact is present at every stage of BPD’s enforcement actions[.]” This is something black Baltimoreans know and rightfully resent. As I’ve written before, this denial of basic rights makes Baltimoreans less secure and less safe:

If civil rights protections are widely denied, particularly to one group of people, because they are routinely ignored and capriciously violated by police officers, those rights lose all tangible meaning to that population. Mistreatment by authorities—whether official policies like Stop and Frisk, or tolerance of police brutality, corruption, or homicide—corrodes the integrity of a community. The government loses credibility by effectively nullifying its own authority by arbitrary enforcement of laws (government powers) and the protections for citizens (civil rights).

Cooperation with law enforcement must suffer as the trust required between a police department and its citizens is eroded by the rightly perceived unbalanced enforcement. Criminals become emboldened through weakened law enforcement capabilities, and the citizens become less safe. The community divests itself from the relationship with the police and societal norms become threatened.

Aggressive and unconstitutional policing is a threat to community safety. The policies that support and encourage these practices are counterproductive to public safety and actually make policing harder. They ensnare far more innocent people than guilty ones and make police-community cooperation all but impossible. Police departments should discontinue these practices on their own, for their own interest, and not wait for the DOJ to tell them what is patently obvious to the people suffering under the policies in their communities.

For a longer explanation of pretextual stops and police legitimacy, you can read my article in the in the Case Western Reserve Law Review here. A shorter piece on the importance of individual rights and policing is here.  The full DOJ report on Baltimore can be found here.

Education historian Diane Ravitch is against charter schools, voucher programs – any sort of education “privatization.” And that’s fine. I just wish she would bring more to bear in opposing such measures than accusations about privatizers’ hand-rubbing, dastardly motives, and unsupported assertions about what privatization has or has not done.

Here’s the part that really got to me in Ravitch’s latest writing on privatization:

A quarter century after privatization began in earnest, it is clear that its main effect has been to undermine the public schools. Actually, that has always been the goal of the privatization movement. Their propaganda campaign – which now spans from Kenya to the United Kingdom – blames public schools for the persistence of poverty and for the low test scores of children who grow up in poverty, without adequate food or medical care.

The privatization movement has cleverly and deceitfully branded itself as a “reform movement.” As they divert resources and students from public schools, which still enroll the vast majority of students, they congratulate themselves for leading a civil rights movement and introducing market discipline into what has traditionally been a government responsibility.

These are pretty tough accusations. But where’s the evidence? Ravitch offers basically none, save attacking the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk” for overinflating the dangers posed to the United States by its education system. (A point, by the way, to which I am sympathetic.)

But demonstrate that the main goal—and effect—of privatizers has been to hurt public schools, not help kids? No evidence. That privatizers have “deceitfully” used the term “reform movement,” as if more school choice weren’t somehow a reform? No evidence. That they blame public schools, presumably exclusively, for the persistence of poverty? No evidence.

I can’t speak to the motivations of others, but my goal in supporting “privatization” is absolutely to reform the system and help not just children, but all of society. Not only do I think the evidence shows public schooling does not work as well as free-market education academically, government schooling is fundamentally at odds with basic American values, forcing social conflict and creating inequality under the law. And Ravitch herself has furnished a significant amount of the evidence that has led me to those conclusions.  

Those conclusions have, of course, caused me to believe that the government monopoly over education should go away, and that funding should follow each, unique child to the educational options chosen by his or her parents. The end of government schooling, however, is not my goal, but a consequence of achieving my desired goals: improving education and maximizing liberty.

There is also weighty evidence of the power of privatized—meaning, really, freedom-based—education. As James Tooley’s work has vividly illustrated, private, for-profit schools seem to be providing education, typically better than the public schools, to many of the poorest people in the world. And the cases of Sweden and Chile to which Ravitch points actually furnish far from damning evidence that choice fails.

Of course, Ravitch may not agree with the findings of Tooley and others, but she at least ought to deal with them. Instead, she brusquely dismisses privatization and impugns the motives of “privatizers.” To truly determine what’s best for children and society, that’s not a very useful argument.

Elliot Tiber has died at 81. He was an interior decorator and aspiring artist, but he became best known for his role in creating the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival in 1969 and for his books and a 2009 movie about the experience. I wrote about the book and movie Taking Woodstock in Liberty magazine in 2010. That article isn’t online, so I republish it here:

The movie Taking Woodstock, directed by Ang Lee, led me to the book of the same name by Elliot Tiber. I knew of Woodstock as a hippie happening a bit before my time. What I found interesting about the movie and the book was the portrayal of the Woodstock Festival, “Three Days of Peace and Music,” as an impressive entrepreneurial venture. 

In 1969 Tiber was a 33-year-old gay designer living in Manhattan, while spending his weekends trying to save his parents’ rundown Catskills motel. One weekend he read that some concert promoters had been denied a permit in Wallkill, N.Y. He came up with the crazy idea of inviting them to hold the festival on his parents’ property. Lo and behold, they showed up to check it out. Taking the lead was 24-year-old Michael Lang, who went on to become a prominent concert promoter and producer. 

The Tiber (actually Teichberg) property wasn’t suitable, but Elliot drove Lang and his team down the road to Max Yasgur’s nearby farm. At least that’s Tiber’s story; other sources say he exaggerates his role. He did play a key role, however, in that he had a permit to hold an annual music festival, which up until then had involved a few local bands. 

There’s a wonderful scene, better in the movie than in the book, when Lang and Yasgur negotiate a price for the use of the farm. We see it dawning on Yasgur that this is a big deal. We see Elliot panicking that the deal will fall through, and that without the festival business his parents will lose their motel. And we see Lang’s assistant reassuring Elliot that both parties want to make a deal, so they’ll find an acceptable price, which indeed they do. 

And then, with 30 days to transform a dairy farm into a place for tens of thousands of people to show up for a 3-day festival, Tiber describes (and Lee shows) a whirlwind of activity. “Within a couple of hours, the phone company had a small army of trucks and tech people on the grounds, installing the banks of telephones that Lang and his people needed.” Helicopters, limousines, and motorcycles come and go. A few hundred people are erecting scaffolding, stage sets, speakers, and toilets. The motel keepers are trying to find rooms and food for the workers and the early arrivals. The local bank is eagerly providing door-to-door service for the mountains of cash flowing into bucolic White Lake, N.Y. 

Meanwhile, there are a few locals who don’t like the whole idea. In Tiber’s telling, they don’t like Jews, queers, outsiders, or hippies. Maybe they just didn’t like a quiet village being overrun with thousands of outsiders. In any case they had a few tools available to them. A dozen kinds of inspectors swarmed around the Teichbergs’ motel. The town council threatened to pull the permit. Tiber writes, “Why is it that the stupidest people alive become politicians? I asked myself.”  At the raucous council meeting Lang offered the town a gift of $25,000 ($150,000 in today’s dollars), and most of the crowd got quiet. Max Yasgur stood and pointed out that “he owned his farm and had a right to lease it as he pleased.” That didn’t stop the opposition, but in the end the concert happened. 

The psychedelic posters and language about peace and love – and on the other side, the conservative fulminations about filthy hippies (see John Nolte’s movie review at BigHollywood.com – can obscure the fact that Woodstock was always intended as a profit-making venture. That was the goal of Lang and his partners, and it was also the intention of Tiber, Yasgur, and those of their neighbors who saw the concert as an opportunity and not a nightmare. The festival did rescue the Teichberg finances. It ended up being a free concert, however, which caused problems for Lang and his team. Eventually, though, they profited from the albums and the hit documentary Woodstock

In his book Tiber also details his life split between Manhattan’s scene and his parents’ upstate struggles. He tells us that as a young gay man in the ‘60s he encountered Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Marlon Brando and Wally Cox, and Robert Mapplethorpe. 

Tiber writes, “One of the great benefits of Woodstock—a benefit that, to my knowledge, has never been written about—was its sexual diversity.” But I think the fact that there were gay awakenings at Woodstock—and three-ways and strapping ex-Marines in sequined dresses—would surprise people less than the realization that Woodstock was a for-profit venture that involved a lot of entrepreneurship, hard-nosed negotiation, organization, and hard work. Taking Woodstock (the book, but better yet the movie) is a great story of sex, drugs, rock-and-roll, and capitalism. 

Despite the success of America’s post-World War II policy, its advocates act as if it is an abysmal failure. No matter that the ROK took advantage of Washington’s defense shield to develop into one of the world’s most important, largest, and advanced economies. The U.S. must continue to protect the South from the latter’s decrepit northern neighbor.

For instance, analyst Khang Vu offers no argument that South Korea is vital for America. He refers to another Korean war posing “an adverse prospect for future U.S. administrations.”

Which is about right. It would be a human tragedy and source of instability, but it wouldn’t matter much for American security. The next step would not be conquest of the West Coast (despite the hysterical plot of the movie reboot Red Dawn).

But why would the South lose? After all, the South possesses an economy around 40 times as large and population about twice as large, and has neutralized North Korea’s two traditional military allies, China and Russia. Seoul could easily match, indeed overmatch, the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Yet there is fear of a power vacuum, in the belief that the South would not bother to build up its own forces. America therefore must spend more, deploy more troops, and repeatedly “reassure” its helpless allies.

Ohm Tae-am of the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses recently defended the ROK’s inadequate spending as having increased six times since 1991. But the South was starting with a very low base. Seoul is far richer than the DPRK, and therefore has no excuse for claiming it cannot defend itself.

Still, maybe the ROK would not expand its forces while the U.S. was withdrawing its units. Probably not, but even that would be Seoul’s decision. It makes no sense to force the American people to defend the South Korean people if the latter aren’t willing to defend themselves.

However, Vu warns that the South might irresponsibly respond “militarily to avoid losing face” to a DPRK provocation. Thus, American troops must remain on station to prevent Seoul from doing something stupid. If Seoul is truly that irresponsible, Washington should disengage immediately.

Of course, Vu says, don’t worry, “the presence of American troops has effectively thwarted North Korean attacks in the first place.” However, deterrence frequently fails.

Moreover, the chief danger on the Korean peninsula is not aggression but mistake. It is impossible to deter misjudgment. If something goes wrong, the U.S. will find itself automatically involved in someone else’s war.

Vu also makes the curious claim that defending the world costs America nothing because Seoul helps pay basing costs. However, foreign policy drives force structure. If Washington did not promise to defend the South, and a multitude of other states, it could shrink the armed forces. So the cost of protecting the ROK is not just the expense of basing units overseas, but of creating them in the first place.

Finally, critics dismiss the likelihood that U.S. disengagement would advance negotiation. In fact, it seems unlikely that Pyongyang would yield its existing nuclear arsenal under any circumstances, but there are other potentially useful deals that could be struck, including limiting future nuclear developments and reducing conventional force deployments.

Of course, positive results remain unlikely. But just doing what we’ve been doing isn’t likely to get better results in the future.

Ultimately, North Korea threatens America only because America threatens North Korea. If U.S. troops weren’t stationed on the peninsula, Kim would find other targets for his abundant venom and threats.

America remains in Korea out of habit. Which has helped turn the Pentagon into a vast fount of international charity.

As I point out in National Interest: “South Korea is one of America’s many foreign welfare dependents. The U.S. military is overstretched. The U.S. government is effectively broke. The American people are overwhelmed with debt.”

It’s time for Washington to pare back unnecessary security commitments. Allowing the ROK to defend itself would be a good place to start.

Many noticed the refugee team competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics but few noticed the immigrants on the American team.  As far as I can tell, 47 out of the 554 American athletes were born in another country although some of them are probably the children of American citizens born abroad.  Thus, 8.5 percent of American Olympians were born in another country.  However, immigrants are underrepresented among Olympians because 13.3 percent of the U.S. population is foreign-born.  Despite being underrepresented as a whole, immigrants are more likely to be in some sports rather than others.

Immigrants are overrepresented in sports to the left of the red line while they are less likely to be Olympians in sports to the right, compared to their percent of the U.S. population (Figure 1).  There are no immigrants representing the United States in archery to weightlifting on the right-hand side of Figure 1.  It’s also important to note that many of the sports where immigrants are overrepresented have the fewest number of athletes.  For instance, there are only two American synchronized swimmers and six American table tennis players.  

Figure 1

Foreign Born as a Percentage of Each U.S. Team


Source: TeamUSA.org Sortable Roster

These foreign-born athletes also come from countries on every continent (Figure 2).  Kenya, China, and the United Kingdom are the top three countries of origin. Charles Jock, who will run the 800-meter race for the United States, actually lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia for a time as a child before settling in the United States with his family.

Figure 2

Foreign Born Athletes by Country of Origin

Country of Origin

Number of Athletes





United Kingdom






























Hong Kong
















South Africa




Trinidad and Tobago






Source: TeamUSA.org Sortable Roster

Foreign-born Americans competing in the Olympics come from all over the world but are concentrated in a handful of sports.  Unfortunately, there is not enough public information about the athletes who are the children of immigrants - like Steven Lopez who is competing in Tae Kwon Do.  Regardless, many immigrants are competing for the U.S. Olympic team in Rio.

Turkey’s brief democratic moment is ending. The rise of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Development and Justice Party (AKP) in 2002 signaled the collapse of the militarized secular republic created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The recent failed coup effectively killed the semi-liberal democracy that briefly replaced Kemalism.

NATO is an anachronism and Ankara’s membership even more so. Today Turkey undermines U.S. and European security. As Ankara moves toward an authoritarian one-party state, a civil divorce would be best for all parties.

Erdogan began as the reformer Turkey had spent decades waiting for. He was supported by liberals hoping for a more democratic and open society. Europeans saw Erdogan as the man to take Turkey into the European Union.

And he delivered, at least until the AKP won its third consecutive election in 2010. Then he began moving in an unmistakably authoritarian direction.

Corruption spread, but police and prosecutors who asked too many questions were replaced. Military officers and others were convicted of fantastic charges based on fabricated evidence. Journalism became a risky profession, with entire media companies seized by his government. Thousands criticizing the president were prosecuted.

Erdogan also abandoned the ceasefire he had negotiated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, winning votes from nationalists. Ankara attempted to drag the U.S. into the conflict against the Assad government while accommodating the Islamic State as it conquered territory and terrorized captive residents. Last fall his government threatened to spread the conflict by shooting down a Russian aircraft for briefly violating Turkish airspace.

Erdogan redoubled domestic repression after the failed putsch, treating it as the equivalent of the Reichstag fire for the Nazis, an excuse to launch a country-wide crackdown. The Great Purge obviously was prepared well in advance. The regime arrested, fired, or suspended tens of thousands of state officials and private employees. The regime also seized or closed foundations, schools, labor groups, universities, newspapers, and online publications.

As Turkey descends more deeply into repression and conflict, its value to NATO decreases. Ankara’s 1952 membership is a Cold War artifact. The Soviet Union no longer exists and there is no evidence that Moscow plans to stage a blitzkrieg through the Balkans, let alone to the Atlantic Ocean.

Russia’s brutal treatment of Georgia and Ukraine is essentially defensive against an expanding NATO, not offensive in attempting to recreate the Soviet empire. There is no renewed Russian threat for Turkey to combat.

Turkey’s primary military benefit to Washington is access to Incirlik airbase, which is not in fact contingent on Ankara being part of NATO. Moreover, the Erdogan government’s cooperation is not guaranteed even today.

As I point out in Forbes, “Turkey probably would not even qualify for alliance membership today. It is engulfed in multiple conflicts largely of its own making. The extraordinarily brutal military campaign in the 1980s and 1990s against the large Kurdish minority could have induced Western intervention had the culprit not been a member of NATO. Now the conflict burns anew.”

Moreover, early in the civil war the Erdogan government backed the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and attempted to drag the U.S. into the horrid imbroglio. The Turkish government also aided the rise of the Islamic State by turning a blind eye to the latter’s cross-border activities, a decision which backfired badly after the group launched terrorist attacks.

At the same time, Turkey no longer meets the democracy and human rights standards for new members. In fact, Secretary of State John Kerry warned Ankara against moving away from the alliance’s “requirement with respect to democracy” in the aftermath of the coup.

NATO was willing to overlook such blemishes in the past, but today’s descent to authoritarianism is much harder to accept. In fact, the regime is distancing itself from the West, with some officials even blaming Washington for the coup.

The collapse of Turkish democracy is a tragedy for Turkey’s citizens and a problem for other nations. Turkey’s voluntary departure from NATO would best serve America’s and Europe’s interests.

The GOP establishment backlash against Donald Trump continues. Last night, Senator Susan Collins of Maine became arguably the highest ranking Republican officeholder to publicly proclaim that she would not support Trump. Over the weekend, outgoing GOP Congressman Scott Rigell (VA-2) declared for Gary Johnson and William Weld, former GOP governors now running on the Libertarian Party ticket. Another lame-duck Republican, Richard Hanna (NY-22) had previously affirmed his support for Hillary Clinton. Meanwhile, GOP Congressman Adam Kinzinger (IL-16) has also come out against Trump, although he hasn’t signaled who he will be supporting.

Yesterday, 50 former Republican national security officials piled on, trashing Trump’s views. In a scathing letter, the officials warned that Donald Trump “would be the most reckless president in American history” and collectively proclaimed that they would not be voting for him in November.

Trump wasted no time attacking the entire group. He said that the signatories should be blamed “for making the world such a dangerous place” and dismissed them as “nothing more than the failed Washington elite looking to hold onto their power.” Indeed, given that Trump has been running against Washington from the very first day of his campaign, he likely welcomes the scorn from these quarters.

This is hardly the first letter opposing Trump on account of his foreign policy views. Bryan McGrath assembled an early #NeverTrump letter here, and, more recently, Ali Wyne drafted a letter signed by mostly academics, 250 and counting, here. It appears that the vast majority of this country’s foreign policy experts want no part of the billionaire real estate developer/reality TV star.

If these men and women are true to their word, and refuse to support the GOP standard bearer, it begs a larger question: If Trump wins in spite of this elite opposition, who exactly would staff the many defense and foreign policy positions in a possible Trump administration? It is a question I’ve been asking myself for months.

As Vox’s Zack Beauchamp notes:

Trump is in desperate need of serious policy advisers. His foreign policy team is full of marginalized Russian sycophants. His economic advisory team has more white guys named Steve than it does actual holders of economics PhDs. Yet Trump’s bizarre policy instincts and his loose-cannon approach has alienated the people who could make up a more serious team — the kind of people who signed today’s letter.

This is part of why every Trump attempt to reboot and talk seriously about policy is riddled with errors and unnecessary controversy. Not only does Trump himself have an indifferent relationship with the truth, but the people attempting to guide him toward it tend to be the GOP’s third-stringers.

We’re in uncharted territory. Traditionally, Republicans can be counted upon to support Republicans, and Democrats support Democrats. This is how the revolving door works in Washington. A few notables manage to straddle the fence, serving in both Republican and Democratic administrations. But, for the most part, senior elected officials draw on a reliable and familiar group within the foreign policy elite. As noted, Trump has been running against these elites from the get-go, and with obvious good effect. The public senses that the so-called experts have made some pretty egregious errors over the past 15+ years. Americans are open to new approaches. They have been for some time; after all, in 2008 they chose relative outsider Barack Obama over establishment insiders Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

Trump’s entire campaign has set up a false dichotomy, however. In foreign policy, Trump wants voters to believe that there are only two choices: 1) the people who got us into disasters such as the war in Iraq, and lesser ones in Libya, or 2) the people he listens to. But the people advising Donald Trump were not prominent opponents of the Iraq war before it started (neither was he, for that matter). If he was listening to any of the most-qualified Iraq war skeptics (for example, here), he likely would have come out in favor of the Iran nuclear deal (.pdf).

There are alternative voices on foreign policy out there. There are those who have opposed some of America’s more foolish wars, and who question the need for the United States to be the world’s policeman, for example, but who don’t buy into Trump’s fear-mongering isolationism. They aren’t xenophobes and trade protectionists. They don’t endorse the use of torture, expect U.S. military personnel to commit war crimes, or openly muse about using nuclear weapons. Stephen Walt articulates well the frustrations of this entire class of experts, ignored by Trump, but also by Hillary Clinton’s thoroughly conventional campaign.

We need a debate in this country about America’s strategic choices. But Donald Trump, by freezing out and discrediting the serious scholars who have been challenging the elite consensus for years, is making it less likely that we will have one.

Even after twenty years, the North American Free Trade Agreement remains highly controversial.  Donald Trump claims that NAFTA has “destroyed this country economically,” apparently unaware that the U.S. economy is still pretty fantastic.  He has promised to pull out of the landmark free trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada unless he can renegotiate it. 

Hillary Clinton has also promised to renegotiate NAFTA.  Trump has erroneously claimed that Clinton only came out against NAFTA after he made an issue of it.  She made the same promise during her 2008 presidential campaign.  Trumps also claims (much less erroneously) that Clinton will probably back out of any promise to renegotiate NAFTA after she’s elected.

If you ask the Obama administration, however, they’ll say they’ve already renegotiated NAFTA by creating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which includes Canada and Mexico.  The idea behind that claim is that the TPP includes stronger and more enforceable labor and environment rules than NAFTA.  NAFTA’s critics on the Left have complained since its inception that NAFTA’s rules are inadequate.  Obama’s claim to have fixed that “problem” through the TPP is a bit comical, even if nominally true, since those same critics also despise the TPP for largely the same reasons.

Clinton has raised the labor and environment complaint in her own condemnations of NAFTA, along with concern over investment rules and dispute settlement procedures.

Trump’s criticisms of NAFTA have been characteristically vague.  He seems to be caught up in an economically misguided concern for bilateral trade deficits.  Presumably, Trump would want to raise tariffs on goods from Mexico and somehow have Mexico agree to that within NAFTA.

The reason no one is going to renegotiate NAFTA is that Mexico and Canada are not interested.  Most likely, their trade officials understand that U.S. elections bring out a lot of protectionist saber-rattling that gets lost in the shuffle once new Presidents get to work crafting and implementing their international economic policy, which presumably doesn’t involve impoverishing the United States and its neighbors. 

Two way trade between the United States and Mexico rounds out to about $1.4 billion per day.  That figure includes well-established cross-border supply chains that enable integrated North American industries.  The economic consequences of disrupting that trade are serious, and pulling out of NAFTA  might actually accomplish all the horrible things Trump has blamed NAFTA for doing. 

Last week, the massive backlog in cases in the federal immigration courts crossed the half a million threshold. Immigrants currently being processed will have waited an average of almost two years for a judge to adjudicate their cases. The backlog has grown at a time when illegal immigration has fallen dramatically and the unauthorized population has shrunk. 

Summary of Findings

  • The immigration courts’ lower productivity accounts for all of the increase in pending cases since 2009.
  • Immigration courts are finishing far fewer cases in recent years, completing just 58 percent as many cases in 2015 as they did in 2005.   
  • Nearly 100 percent of the decline in productivity from 2005 to 2016 occurred before the surge in unaccompanied children in 2014.
  • The number of immigration judges, which has increased 18.5 percent from 2005 to the first quarter of 2016, does not explain the backlog.
  • Each immigration judge completed just 60 percent as many cases in 2015 as they did in 2005.
  • The complexity of the cases fails to explain the decreased efficiency. Immigration judges are on pace to complete just 44 percent as many cases in which they rule on the merits in 2016 as they did in 2006.
  • In October 2012, the Department of Justice’s Inspector General called procedural continuances a “primary factor” in the court’s inefficiency.

More Immigration Judges Are Completing Fewer Cases

The most common explanation for the growing number of cases pending before the immigration courts is that the number of immigration judges has not kept up with the number of new cases. But as Figure 1 shows, the number of immigration judges has increased sharply since the early 2000s, yet the backlog continues to grow.

Figure 1: Immigration Court Judges and New Cases (FY 2001 to First Quarter of FY 2016)


Sources: Judges: Office of Personnel Management via TRAC Immigration of Syracuse University (1998-2009), Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (2010-2016); Cases: TRAC Immigration of Syracuse University

The number of pending cases only grows when the immigration courts complete fewer cases than they receive. As can be seen in Figure 2, the courts were completing almost as many cases as they received from 2000 to 2008, and the backlog remained roughly constant. The courts became more productive from 2001 to 2006 before the trend reversed. They steadily finished fewer cases from 2007 to 2014. The lower productivity has persisted even years after the hiring surge from 2009 to 2011.

Figure 2: Completed Cases, New Cases, and Immigration Judges (2000-2016)

Source: Judges: See Figure 1, Completions:  TRAC Immigration of Syracuse University (Completions sum all removals, voluntary departures, grants of relief, terminations, and closures)

Since fewer cases are being completed while more immigration judges are being added to the courts, the number of completions per judge has fallen to its lowest level ever. As early as October 2012, the Inspector General (IG) for the Department of Justice (DOJ) reported:

During this same 5-year period [from 2006 to 2010] that the completion rate was declining, the number of immigration judges was increasing…. Despite the increase in judges, the overall efficiency of the courts did not improve. 

Figure 3 gives the number of cases that the average adjudicating immigration judge completed from 1998 to 2016.

Figure 3: Cases Completed Per Immigration Judge

Source: See sources for Figures 1 and 2

If immigration judges completed the same number of cases from 2009 to 2016 that they averaged from 1998 to 2008, they would have finished 345,000 more cases than they actually did. Figure 4 shows the actual backlog compared to the projected backlog if judges had continued at their previous average. As can be seen, judges were completing above their historical average in 2009 before slowing down thereafter.

Figure 4: Actual Pending Immigration Case Backlog and Projected Case Backlog with Average Completion Rate Per Judge From 1998 to 2008


Source: Author’s calculation based on sources for Figures 1 and 2.

Recent Immigration Cases Are Not More Labor Intensive

One possible explanation for the backlog growth is that current immigration cases are more labor intensive for judges than in previous years. The least labor intensive cases are terminations and closures. Termination of proceedings is the court’s way of dropping charges against the immigrant. It is an act of prosecutorial discretion most used when the immigrant has eligibility for a visa. Closures set cases aside without a formal decision being rendered for or against the immigrant. It is another way of prioritizing the docket, but the case can be placed back on the calendar at any time. 

In March 2013, the Chief Immigration Judge Brian O’Leary told immigration judges to close more cases as a “legitimate method of… preserving limited adjudicative resources.”  As Figure 5 shows, the collapse in court productivity actually coincides with a large increase in the number of cases being administratively closed or terminated from 2009 to 2016. While terminations saw a twofold increase, and closures a fivefold increase, removals and voluntary departures fell by half, and findings in favor of relief by 40 percent.

Figure 5: Immigration Court Outcomes—Removals and Voluntary Departures, Relief, and Closures and Terminations (1998 to 2016)

Source: TRAC Immigration of Syracuse University

While terminations could be seen as a “completion” because the court’s jurisdiction over the case is removed, administrative closures do not actually conclude the court’s business with the case. The immigrant is still under the jurisdiction of the court, and the court can place the case back on the docket at any time. In its October 2012 report, DOJ’s Inspector General chastised the courts for including closures as “completions.” The whole point of administrative closure is to increase the processing capacity of the court, yet as Figure 6 shows, focusing solely on cases in which the courts removed their jurisdiction demonstrates an even steeper decline in productivity.

Figure 6: Non-Closure Court Cases Completed Per Immigration Judge (1998-2016)


Source: TRAC Immigration of Syracuse University

The courts closed almost 28,000 more cases per year from 2012 to 2016 than they did from 1998 to 2011—138,000 in total. If the courts had completed as many non-closure cases as they did during the earlier period, while closing as many more cases as they did during the later period, the backlog would be gone entirely.

Asylum Seekers and Unaccompanied Children Have Not Caused the Backlog

The most difficult type of case is one in which the immigrant puts forward a claim of asylum in the United States, asserting a fear of persecution in their home country. These cases require a significant time for the immigrant to gather any evidence and find and present witnesses, and for Homeland Security to evaluate or rebut the claim. But during the key period from 2005 to 2011, there was no increase in the number of asylum decisions—denied or affirmed—in the courts. In fact, the number of decisions declined by 36.8 percent.

Figure 7: Asylum Decisions in Immigration Court, Total Decisions, and Asylum Grant Rate (2001-2014)

Sources: TRAC Immigration of Syracuse University

The administration has placed most of the blame for the backlog on those asylum seekers who claim a “credible fear” of persecution and unaccompanied alien children (UACs) coming to the border. Juan Osuna, the head of the immigration courts, told Congress in December 2015 that “the 2014 border surge put unprecedented pressures on EOIR.” That year, the director decided to fast track cases involving children, putting them in front of the line. The problem with this explanation, however, is that almost the entire decline in productivity occurred before the surge. In fact, Figure 7 shows that 2014 actually marked the end of the rapid decline in productivity, rather than its start.

Figure 8: UACs, Credible Fear Claims, and Non-Closure Completed Cases Per Immigration Judge

Source: Competitions: TRAC Immigration of Syracuse University; UACs: Customs and Border Protection (2008-2011, 2012-June 2016); Credible Fear: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (2009-April 2016), Rempel (2008).

It’s also inaccurate to state that the courts have not previously handled a similarly rapid growth in their caseload. In 2005 and 2006, an influx of non-Mexican arrivals from Central America and Brazil resulted in a truly unprecedented jump in new cases. Similar to the UACs and women with children cases in 2014, the courts prioritized processing them. As Figure 9 demonstrates, the courts saw nearly 100,000 more new cases in those two years than in 2014 and 2015 and, despite having 12 percent fewer judges, processed 97.1 percent of them compared to 76.5 percent in 2014 and 2015.

Figure 9: Immigration Judges, New Cases, Completed Cases (2005, 2006, 2014, 2015)

Sources: See Figure 3

Immigration court proceedings initiated based on a claim of criminality tend to be more labor intensive as well, but again there was no increase in the number of criminal removal proceedings during the key period from 2006-2014.

Figure 10: Criminal Charges and Total Immigration Court Non-Closure Completions (2001-2016)

Source: TRAC Immigration of Syracuse University (Projected for 2016)

Courts Are Spending More Time Not Deciding Cases

Because courts are not completing as many cases, they are clearly spending more time on other matters. The share of all court activities—proceedings, motions, bond hearings—spent on decisions in which the judge made a decision on the merits of the case, as opposed to deciding procedural matters, steadily declined from 2007 to 2011.

Figure 11: Merits Decisions and Other Court Hearings as a Share of All Hearings (2007-2011)


Source: Benson and Wheeler.

The other hearings that saw the largest increases were incomplete proceedings and other completed proceedings, such as a change of venue, that did not end with a merits decision. Bond hearings also saw a large increase over the period, while other motions held constant.

Figure 12: Non-Merits Decision Hearings as a Share of all Hearings (2007-2011) 

Source: Benson and Wheeler.

As can be inferred from the incomplete proceedings number, judges are postponing hearings at a much greater rate in recent years. As Figure 13 demonstrates, the number of continuances relative to the number of completed proceedings—which includes the growing number of changes of venue and other non-merits decision hearings—trended upward during the key period in which court productivity sank.

Figure 13: Ratio of Continuances to Completed Proceedings (2005, 2008, 2010)

Source: Benson and Wheeler.

In its October 2012 report, DOJ’s IG found that “frequent and lengthy continuances are a primary factor contributing to case processing times.” Judges granted continuances in about half of the sample that the IG reviewed, and those cases were delayed an average of 368 days. In a majority of cases, the immigrants initiated the request for continuance, but their share of such requests has declined, while DHS prosecutors initiated the vast majority of other requests (Figure 14).

Figure 14: Sources of Continuances in Immigration Court (2005, 2008, 2010, 2011)

Source: 2005-2010: Benson and Wheeler; 2011: Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Justice. October 2012.

In 2011, time to seek representation was the most common reason immigrants asked for continuances (23 percent) followed closely by more time to prepare their cases (21 percent). The DOJ’s IG report stated, “EOIR advised us that a lack of representation can significantly delay proceedings because of the extra time needed to provide explanations to, and solicit information from, the aliens.” But lower representation does not appear to have been a factor in lower productivity. The share of represented cases actually increased significantly from about 32 percent to 45 percent from 2009 to 2012.

This raises the possibility that representation itself slows down the process, but yet again, this appears to be off the mark. The absolute number of represented cases moved only slightly upwards from 74,955 to 76,336 (Figure 15). As the study that documented these trends concluded, “increasing representation rates appear to be more a matter of decreasing volume of judicial decisions, rather than increasing involvement of attorney representatives.”

Figure 15: Representation in Immigration Courts in Cases Decided on the Merits 

Source: Eagly, Ingrid and Shafer, Steven.

While immigrants were more likely to request continuances, Homeland Security prosecutor-initiated delays were 12 percent longer in duration. These delays were mainly necessary to finish background checks and forensic analysis, which was also the longest form of delay (132 days). Although an increase in wait times for DHS processing of visa applications occurred in the middle of the period when court efficiency declined, the fact that wait times have since reverted back to their norms without a corresponding increase in efficiency supports the idea that it was not a major factor in the court backlog.

Chief Judge O’Leary’s March 2013 letter to immigration judges stated that “it is beyond dispute that multiple continuances result in delay in the individual case, and when viewed across the entire immigration court system, exacerbate our already crowded dockets.” He clarified the legal standards for granting continuances in the clear hopes that judges would more critically assess requests for continuance. While it is unclear if this happened immediately or not, the decision to expedite the cases of unaccompanied alien children and women with children resulted in a 16-day drop in the median first continuance.

Additional Considerations 

Several reports and congressional testimony have reviewed the efficiency and effectiveness of the immigration courts in recent years (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). These reports provide a large number of recommendations far beyond what can be evaluated in this survey. Suffice it to say that they detail a variety of ways in which the courts suffer from structural deficiencies that prevent it from completing their task as well as they should given the resources available.

Two factors should be given particular attention. First, resources are not distributed proportionately to the amount of cases being filed in jurisdictions creating wild variations in the court backlog across the country—292 days in North Carolina but 965 in Colorado. Second, unlike other courts, defendants in immigration courts lack court-provided legal representation, which results in unnecessary delays for immigrants to find counsel. 

“So, yes, the president was saying – two months after the news broke – that the whole IRS thing was just a ‘phony scandal.’” That’s a tidbit passed along by Kim Strassel in her much-talked-about new book, The Intimidation Game. It references the scandal over Internal Revenue Service targeting of Tea Party and “patriot” groups for delay and for bizarrely burdensome documentation demands concerning their personnel and activities. Although President Obama offered what seemed to be heartfelt apologies at the time, and a couple of top officials departed the agency (including director of nonprofit organizations Lois Lerner, who had taken Fifth Amendment protection), there was soon an effort to recast the affair as a matter of merely incompetent mix-ups, rather than a lapse of public integrity and the rule of law. In June a Washington Post editorial took this line, to which I responded by pointing out that the discriminatory handling of groups with adversary political viewpoints was so systematic and intense as to be hard to explain by mere inadvertence.

On Friday morning, a panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a unanimous opinion (PDF) ordering the reinstatement of a suit against the IRS by two conservative groups, True the Vote and Linchpins of Liberty, seeking a court order against future IRS abuse. The IRS had sought the dismissal of the action as moot, arguing, in best let’s-move-on manner, that it had ceased the unlawful targeting and remedied its effects. Not so, the court said: not only had the IRS not given adequate guarantees that it would not resume improper targeting, but there is evidence that it hasn’t even stopped the practice. 

The D.C. Circuit opinion abounds in scathing language about the Service’s misconduct (it is “plain … that the IRS cannot defend its discriminatory conduct on the merits,” there being “little factual dispute” about it). You can read my write-up of the case at Ricochet, which might help you stay ahead of the news: as of this morning, four days after the court’s ruling, some large news organizations have still not seen fit to report on it.

Arguments against immigration come across my desk every day but their variety is limited – rarely do I encounter a unique one.  Several times a year I give presentations about these arguments and rebut their points.  These are the main arguments against immigration and my quick responses to them:

1.  “Immigrants will take our jobs and lower our wages, especially hurting the poor.”

This is the most common argument and also the one with the greatest amount of evidence rebutting it.  First, the displacement effect is small if it even affects natives at all.  Immigrants are typically attracted to growing regions and they increase the supply and demand sides of the economy once they are there, expanding employment opportunities.  Second, the debate over immigrant impacts on American wages is confined to the lower single digits – immigrants may increase the relative wages for some Americans by a tiny amount and decrease them by a larger amount for the few Americans who directly compete against them.  Immigrants likely compete most directly against other immigrants so the effects on less-skilled native-born Americans might be very small or even positive.

New research by Harvard professor George Borjas on the effect of the Mariel Boatlift – a giant shock to Miami’s labor market that increased the size of its population by 7 percent in 42 days – finds large negative wage effects concentrated on Americans with less than a high school degree.  To put the scale of that shock to Miami in context, it would be as if 22.4 million immigrants moved to America in a six-week period – which will not happen.  Some doubt Borjas’ finding (here is Borjas’ response to the critics and here is a summary of the debate) but what is not in doubt is that immigration has increased the wages and income of Americans on net.  The smallest estimates immigration surplus, as it is called, is equal to about 0.24 percent of GDP – which excludes the gains to immigrants and just focuses on those of native-born Americans.

2. “Immigrants abuse the welfare state.”

Most legal immigrants do not have access to means-tested welfare for their first five years here with few exceptions and unauthorized immigrants don’t have access at all – except for emergency Medicaid. 

Immigrants are less likely to use means-tested welfare benefits that similar native-born Americans.  When they do use welfare, the dollar value of benefits consumed is smaller.  If poor native-born Americans used Medicaid at the same rate and consumed the same value of benefits as poor immigrants, the program would be 42 percent smaller. 

Immigrants also make large net contributions to Medicare and Social Security, the largest portions of the welfare state, because of their ages, ineligibility, and their greater likelihood of retiring in other countries.  Far from draining the welfare state, immigrants have given the entitlement portions a few more years of operation before bankruptcy.  If you’re still worried about immigrant use of the welfare state, as I am, then it is far easier and cheaper to build a higher wall around the welfare state, instead of around the country.

 3. “Immigrants are a net fiscal cost.”

Related to the welfare argument is that immigrants consume more in government benefits than they generate in tax revenue.  The empirics on this are fairly consistent – immigrants in the United States have a net-zero impact on government budgets (the published version of that working paper is published here). 

It seems odd that poor immigrants don’t create a larger deficit but there are many factors pushing explaining that.  The first is that higher immigrant fertility and the long run productivity of those people born in the United States generates a lot of tax revenue.  The second is that immigrants grow the economy considerably (this is different from the immigration surplus discussed above) and increase tax revenue.  The third is that many immigrants come when they are young but not young enough to consume public schools, thus they work and pay taxes before consuming hundreds of thousands of dollars in public schools costs and welfare benefits – meaning they give an immediate fiscal boost.  There are many other reasons as well. 

Although the tax incidence from immigrants is what matters for the fiscal consequences, between 50 percent and 75 percent of illegal immigrants comply with federal tax law.  States that rely on consumption or property taxes tend to garner a surplus from taxes paid by unlawful immigrants while those that rely on income taxes do not.              

4.  “Immigrants increase economic inequality.”

In a post-Piketty world, the argument that immigration is increasing economic inequality within nations is getting some attention.  While most forms of economic inequality are increasing among people within nations, global inequality is likely falling due and at a historic low point due to rapid economic growth in much of the world over the last generation

The evidence on how immigration affects economic inequality in the United States is mixed – some research finds relatively small effects and others find substantial ones.  The variance in findings can be explained by research methods – there is a big difference in outcomes between a study that measures how immigration affects economic inequality only among natives and another study that includes immigrants and their earnings.  Both methods seem reasonable but the effects on inequality are small compared to other factors.

Frankly, I don’t see the problem if an immigrant quadruples his income by coming to the United States, barely affects the wages of native-born Americans here, and increases economic inequality as a result.  The standard of living is much more important than the earnings distribution and everybody in this situation either wins or is unaffected. 

 5.  “Today’s immigrants don’t assimilate like previous immigrant groups did.”

There is a large amount of research that indicates immigrants are assimilating as well as or better than previous immigrant groups – even Mexicans.  The first piece of research is the National Academy of Science’s (NAS) September 2015 book titled The Integration of Immigrants into American Society.  It’s a thorough and brilliant summation of the relevant academic literature on immigrant assimilation.  Bottom line:  Assimilation is never perfect and always takes time, but it’s going very well.

The second book is a July 2015 book entitled Indicators of Immigrant Integration 2015 that analyses immigrant and second generation integration on 27 measurable indicators across the OECD and EU countries.  This report finds more problems with immigrant assimilation in Europe, especially for those from outside of the European Union, but the findings for the United States are quite positive.

The third work by University of Washington economist Jacob Vigdor compares modern immigrant civic and cultural assimilation to that of immigrants from the early 20th century (an earlier draft of his book chapter is here, the published version is available in this collection).  If you think early 20th century immigrants and their descendants eventually assimilated successfully, Vigdor’s conclusion is reassuring:

“While there are reasons to think of contemporary migration from Spanish-speaking nations as distinct from earlier waves of immigration, evidence does not support the notion that this wave of migration poses a true threat to the institutions that withstood those earlier waves.  Basic indicators of assimilation, from naturalization to English ability, are if anything stronger now than they were a century ago.”

For the nostalgic among us who believe that immigrants assimilated so much more smoothly in the past, the plethora of ethnic and anti-Catholic riots, the nativist Know-Nothing movement, and immigrant groups that refused to assimilate are a useful tonic.  Immigrant assimilation is always messy and it looks bad from the middle of that process where we are right now, but the trends are positive and pointing in the right direction.

6.  “Immigrants are especially crime prone.”

This myth has been around for over a century.  It wasn’t true in 1896, 1909, 1931, 1994, and more recently.  Immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated for violent and property crimes and cities with more immigrants and their descendants are more peaceful.  Some immigrants do commit violent and property crimes but, on the whole, they are less likely to do so.

7.  “Immigrants pose a unique risk today because of terrorism.”

Terrorism is not a modern strategy.  There were a large number of bombings and terrorist attacks in the early 20th century, most of them committed by immigrants, socialists, and their fellow travelers. 

Today, the deaths from terrorism committed by immigrants are greater than they were a century ago but the risk is still low compared to the benefits of immigration.  For instance, the chance of an American being killed in a terrorist attack committed on U.S. soil by a refugee was one in 3.6 billion from 1975 to 2015.  For all foreign-born terrorists on U.S. soil, the chance of being murdered in a terrorist attack is one in 3.6 million during the same period of time.  Almost 99 percent of those murders occurred on 9/11 and were committed by foreigners on tourist visas and one student visa, not immigrants.  Cato has a paper coming out in September that explores this in greater detail.  Every death from terrorism is a tragedy but immigrants pose a relatively small threat relative to the big benefits of them being here (remember the immigration surplus above). 

8.  “It’s easy to immigrate to America and we’re the most open country in the world.”

It is very difficult to immigrate to the United States.  Ellis Island closed down a long time ago.  In most cases, there isn’t a line and when there is, it can take decades or centuries.  This chart shows the confusing and difficult path to a green card.  Does that look easy to you?

America allows greater numbers of immigrants than any other country.  However, the annual flow of immigrants as a percent of our population is below most other OECD countries because the United States is so large.  The percentage of our population that is foreign-born is about 13 percent – below historical highs in the United States and less than half of what it is in modern New Zealand and Australia.  America is great at assimilating immigrants but other countries are much more open.   

9.  “Amnesty or failure to enforce our immigration laws will destroy the Rule of Law in the United States.”

For a law to be consistent with Rule of Law principle, it must be applied equally, have roughly ex ante predictable outcomes based on the circumstances, and be consistent with our Anglo-Saxon traditions of personal autonomy and liberty.  Our current immigration laws violate all of those.  They are applied differently based on people’s country of birth via arbitrary quotas and other regulations, the outcomes are certainly not predictable, and they are hardly consistent with America’s traditional immigration policy and our conceptions of liberty.

For the Rule of Law to be present, good laws are required, not just strict adherence to government enforcement of impossible to follow rules.  An amnesty is an admission that our past laws have failed, they need reform, and the net cost of enforcing them in the meantime exceeds the benefits.  That’s why there have been numerous amnesties throughout American history. 

Enforcing laws that are inherently capricious and that are contrary to our traditions is inconsistent with a stable Rule of Law that is a necessary, although not sufficient, precondition for economic growth.  Enforcing bad laws poorly is better than enforcing bad laws uniformly despite the uncertainty.  In immigration, poor enforcement of our destructive laws is preferable to strict enforcement but liberalization is the best choice of all.  Admitting our laws failed, granting an amnesty for law-breakers, and reforming the laws does not doom the Rule of Law in the United States – it strengthens it.

10. “National sovereignty.”

By not exercising control over borders through actively blocking immigrants, the users of this argument warn, the United States government will surrender a vital component of its national sovereignty.  Rarely do users of this argument explain to whom the U.S. government would actually surrender sovereignty in this situation.  Even in the most extremely open immigration policy imaginable, total open borders, national sovereignty is not diminished assuming that our government’s institutions chose such a policy (I am not supporting totally open borders here, I am just using it as a foil to show that even in this extreme situation this argument fails).  How can that be?   

The standard Weberian definition of a government is an institution that has a monopoly (or near monopoly) on the legitimate use of violence within a certain geographical area.  The way it achieves this monopoly is by keeping out other competing sovereigns that want to be that monopoly.  Our government maintains its sovereignty is by excluding the militaries of other nations and by stopping insurgents.

However, U.S. immigration laws are not primarily designed or intended to keep out foreign armies, spies, or insurgents.  The main effect of our immigration laws is to keep out willing foreign workers from selling their labor to voluntary American purchasers.  Such economic controls do not aid in the maintenance of national sovereignty and relaxing or removing them would not infringe upon the government’s national sovereignty any more than a policy of unilateral free trade would.  If the United States would return to its 1790-1875 immigration policy, foreign militaries crossing U.S. borders would be countered by the U.S. military.  Allowing the free flow of non-violent and healthy foreign nationals does nothing to diminish the U.S. government’s legitimate monopoly on the use of force in the Weberian world.

There is also a historical argument that free immigration and U.S. national sovereignty are not in conflict.  From 1790-1875 the federal government placed almost no restrictions on immigration.  At the time, states imposed restrictions on the immigration of free blacks and likely indigents through outright bars, taxes, passenger regulations, and bonds.  Many of those restrictions weren’t enforced by state governments and were lifted in the 1840s after Supreme Court decisions.  However, that open immigration policy did not stop the United States from fighting two wars against foreign powers – the War of 1812 and the Mexican-American War – and the Civil War.  The U.S. government’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force during that time was certainly challenged from within and without but the U.S. government maintained its national sovereignty even with near open borders.

The U.S. government was also clearly sovereign during that period of history.  Those who claim the U.S. government would lose its national sovereignty under a regime of free immigration have yet to reconcile that with America’s past of doing just that.  To argue that open borders would destroy American sovereignty is to argue that the United States was not a sovereign country when George Washington, Andrew Jackson, or Abraham Lincoln were Presidents.  We do not have to choose between free immigration and U.S. national sovereignty.

Furthermore, national sovereign control over immigrations means that the government can do whatever it wants with that power – including relinquishing it entirely.  It would be odd to argue that sovereign states have complete control over their border except they can’t open them too much.  Of course, they can – that is the essence of sovereignty.  After all, I’m arguing that the United States government should change its laws to allow for more legal immigration, not that the U.S. government should cede all of its power to a foreign sovereign. 

11.  “Immigrants won’t vote for the Republican Party – look at what happened to California.”

This is an argument used by some Republicans to oppose liberalized immigration.  They point to my home state of California as an example of what happens when there are too many immigrants and their descendants: Democratic control.  The evidence is clear that Hispanic and immigrant voters in California in the early to mid-1990s did turn the state blue but that was a reaction to the state GOP declaring political war on them.  Those who claim that changing demographics due to immigration is solely responsible for the shift in California’s politics have to explain the severe drop-off in support for the GOP at exactly the same time that the party was using anti-immigration propositions and arguments to win the 1994 election.  They would further have to why Texas Hispanics are so much more Republican than those in California.  Nativism has never been the path toward national party success and frequently contributes to their downfall.  In other words, whether immigrants vote for Republicans is mostly up to how Republicans treat them.    

Republicans should look toward the inclusive and relatively pro-immigration policies and positions adopted by their fellow party members in Texas and their subsequent electoral success there rather than trying to replicate the foolish nativist politics pursued by the California Republican Party.  My comment here assumes that locking people out of the United States because they might disproportionality vote for one of the two major parties is a legitimate use of government power – I do not believe that it is.   

12.  “Immigrants bring with them their bad cultures, ideas, or other factors that will undermine and destroy our economic and political institutions.  The resultant weakening in economic growth means that immigrants will destroy more wealth than they will create.”

This is the most intelligent anti-immigration argument and the one most likely to be correct, although the evidence currently doesn’t support it being true.  Economics Michael Clemens lays out a wonderful model of how immigrants could theoretically weaken the growth potential of any receiving countries.  In his model, he assumes that immigrants transmit these anti-growth factors to the United States.  However, as the immigrants assimilate into American ideas and notions, these anti-growth factors weaken over time.  Congestion could counteract that assimilation process when there are too many immigrants with too many bad ideas, thus overwhelming assimilative forces.  Clemens is rightly skeptical that this is occurring but his paper lays out the theoretical point where immigration restrictions would be efficient – where they balance the benefits of economic expansion from immigration with the costs of institutional degradation.

Empirical evidence doesn’t point to this effect either.  In a recent academic paper, my coauthors and I compared economic freedom scores with immigrant populations across 100 countries over 21 years.  Some countries were majority immigrant while some had virtually none.  We found that the larger a country’s immigrant population was in 1990, the more economic freedom increased in the same country by 2011.  The immigrant’s country of origin, and whether they came from a poor nation or a rich one, didn’t affect the outcome.  These results held for the United States federal government but not for state governments.  States with greater immigrant populations in 1990 had less economic freedom in 2011 than those with fewer immigrants, but the difference was small.  The national increase in economic freedom more than outweighed the small decrease in economic freedom in states with more immigrants.  Large immigrant populations also don’t increase the size of welfare programs or other public programs across American states and there is a lot of evidence that more immigrants in European countries actually decreases support for big government. 

Although this anti-immigration argument could be true, it seems unlikely to be so for several reasons.  First, it is very hard to upend established political and economic institutions through immigration.  Immigrants change to fit into the existing order rather than vice versa.  Institutions are ontologically collective – my American conceptions of private property rights wouldn’t accompany me in any meaningful way if I went to Cuba and vice versa.  It would take a rapid inundation of immigrants and replacement of natives to change institutions in most places.     

The second possibility is immigrant self-selection: Those who decide to come here mostly admire American institutions or have policy opinions that are very similar to those of native-born Americans.  As a result, adding more immigrants who already broadly share the opinions of most Americans would not affect policy.  This appears to be the case in the United States.

The third explanation is that foreigners and Americans have very similar policy opinions. This hypothesis is related to those above, but it indicates an area where Americans may be unexceptional compared to the rest of the world.  According to this theory, Americans are not more supportive of free markets than most other peoples, we’re just lucky that we inherited excellent institutions from our ancestors.

The fourth reason is that more open immigration makes native voters oppose welfare or expanded government because they believe immigrants will disproportionately consume the benefits (regardless of the fact that poor immigrants actually under—consume welfare compared to poor Americans).  In essence, voters hold back the expansion of those programs based on the belief that immigrants may take advantage of them.  As Paul Krugman aptly observed, “Absent those [immigration] restrictions, there would have been many claims, justified or not, about people flocking to America to take advantage of [New Deal] welfare programs.”

As the late labor historian (and immigration restrictionist) Vernon M. Briggs Jr. wrote, “This era [of immigration restrictions] witnessed the enactment of the most progressive worker and family legislation the nation has ever adopted.”  None of those programs would have been politically possible to create amidst mass immigration. Government grows the fastest when immigration is the most restricted, and it slows dramatically when the borders are more open.

Even Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels thought that the prospects for working class revolution in the United States were diminished due to the varied immigrant origins of the workers who were divided by a high degree of ethnic, sectarian, and racial diversity.  That immigrant-led diversity may be why the United States never had a popular workers, labor, or socialist party. 

The most plausible argument against liberalizing immigration is that immigrants will worsen our economic and political institutions, thus slowing economic growth and killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.  Fortunately, the academic and policy literature does not support this argument and there is some evidence that immigration could actually improve our institutions.  Even the best argument against immigration is still unconvincing.

13.  “The brain drain of smart immigrants to the United State impoverished other countries.”

The results of the empirical evidence on this point are conclusive: The flow of skilled workers from low-productivity countries to high-productivity nations increases the incomes of people in the destination country, enriches the immigrant, and helps (or at least doesn’t hurt) those left behind.  Furthermore, remittances that immigrants send home are often large enough to offset any loss in home country productivity by emigration.  In the long run, the potential to immigrate and the higher returns from education increase the incentive for workers in the Developing World to acquire skills that they otherwise might not – increasing the quantity of human capital.  Instead of being called a brain drain, this phenomenon should be accurately called a skill flow.   

Economic development should be about increasing the incomes of people not the amount of economic activity in specific geographical regions.  Immigration and emigration do just that.       

14.  “Immigrants will increase crowding, harm the environment, and [insert misanthropic statement here].”

The late economist Julian Simon spent much of his career showing that people are an economic and environmental blessing, not a curse.  Despite his work, numerous anti-immigration organizations today were funded and founded to oppose immigration because it would increase the number of high-income Americans who would then harm the environment more.  Yes, seriously – just read about John Tanton who is the Johnny Appleseed of modern American nativism.

Concern about crowding is focused on publicly provided goods or services – like schools, roads, and heavily zoned urban areas.  Private businesses don’t complain about crowding, they expand to meet demand which increases their profits.  If crowding was really an issue then privatizing government functions so they have an incentive to rapidly meet demand is a cheap and easy option.  Even if the government doesn’t do that, and I don’t suspect they will in the near future, the problems of crowding are manageable because more immigrants also mean a larger tax base.  Reforming or removing local land use laws that prevent development would also go a long way to alleviating any concerns over crowding. 

Although we should think of these issues on the margin, would you rather be stuck with the problems of crowding like they have in Houston or the problem of not enough crowding like in Detroit? 

15.  “Some races and ethnic groups are genetically inferior.  They need to be prevented from coming here, breeding, and decreasing America’s good ethnic stock.”

These arguments were more popular a century ago when notions of eugenics and racism were widely believed, based on extraordinarily bad research, and were some of the main arguments for passage of the Immigration Act of 1924.  They have resurfaced in the comment sections of some blogs and on twitter, frequently directed at yours truly, but these types of arguments still aren’t publicly aired very often and are quite silly.  I don’t spend time engaging with them but I had to mention that they are still out there.

There are other arguments that people use in opposition to immigration.  Many of those arguments revolve around issues of “fairness” – a word with a fuzzy meaning that differs dramatically between people and cultures.  Arguments about fairness often depend on feelings and, usually, a misunderstanding of the facts that is quickly corrected by reference to my 8th point above.

On its front page today, the Washington Post writes about legal and regulatory obstacles to building small second housing units on single-family lots, often for aging family members.

Second homes, often called “granny flats,” have become a new front in the conflict that pits the need for more housing in the country’s most expensive cities against the wishes of neighbors who want to preserve their communities. The same battles flare over large developments that might loom over single-family neighborhoods. But even this modest idea for new housing — let homeowners build it in their own back yards — has run into not-in-my-back-yard resistance….

Homes like the Coffees’, proponents argue, could help ease housing shortages that have made $2,000-a-month one-bedrooms look like a bargain in cities such as Los Angeles. They could yield new affordable housing at no cost to the public. They could add rentals and economic diversity to more neighborhoods. And they could expand housing options for a population in which baby boomers are aging and millennials are stuck at home.

Many neighbors, though, protest that a glut of back yard building would spoil the character of neighborhoods designed around the American ideal of one family on one lot surrounded by verdant lawn. …

“You have surging housing prices in the most prosperous cities in the country, and at the same time income inequality is growing, and there’s a cultural and demographic resurgence of urban living,” [Alan Durning, executive director of the Sightline Institute] said. Young people with less money, in particular, he adds, are “slamming into their parents and grandparents’ regulatory regimes of strict limits on construction of new housing.”

It’s not the first time I’d heard of the problem. In 1996 George Liebmann wrote in Regulation about how “Zoning makes it more difficult to keep aged parents close by and care for them.” He recommended that “Duplex homes and accessory apartments should be permitted in all new residential construction. Housing options such as these allow elderly persons to live near their adult children without intruding on their children’s privacy.” (“Modernization of Zoning,” pp. 71, 75). Note that he was talking not about separate structures but simply residential units attached to the main house. And even those were impeded by zoning regulations. I mentioned them briefly in my 1997 book Libertarianism: A Primer and my 2015 update, The Libertarian Mind (p. 309).

Local officials think their zoning rules are more important than keeping families together.  They fume that allowing such small structures for grandma would “turn our zoning ordinance upside down.” And what’s more important, saving money and keeping grandma near her family or strict adherence to zoning regulations? The Post article, featuring a conflict in Los Angeles, notes the problem of NIMBY or “not in my back yard” attitudes by neighbors. And in this case, as reporter Emily Badger notes, it’s actually in your back yard. Or technically, it’s a matter of “not in my neighbor’s back yard.”

Brink Lindsey wrote about how zoning limits affordable housing in his recent paper on regressive regulation, as did Edward Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko in Regulation.

Newly anointed GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump wasted no time in criticizing the foreign policy legacy of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. For decades the GOP has claimed to uniquely represent American military personnel.

Service members aren’t allowed to become publicly involved in partisan politics. However, they do speak indirectly, via polls and contributions.

It turns out that they favor neither Democrats nor Republicans. Rather, this campaign a plurality is supporting the least militaristic of the candidates, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson.

The LP is a perennial and distant third place contender. But this election might be different. Johnson has been polling in double digits and could hold the balance of power, especially with the help of military voters. For instance, a July poll found Johnson well ahead of the two major party candidates among active duty personnel. 

Almost 39 percent of active duty members backed him. Just 31 percent supported Donald Trump and only 14 percent were for Hillary Clinton. Johnson carried every service except the Navy. He enjoyed the biggest margin in the Marines corps, 44 percent to 27 percent for Trump.

This isn’t the first time a libertarian led the presidential race among military personnel. Republican Ron Paul, a congressman long known as “Dr. No,” was a consistent outlier on foreign policy. While the other Republicans advocated more intervention and war, Paul highlighted the problems of “blowback”—terrorism as a response to Washington’s persistent willingness to bomb, invade, and occupy other nations and drone and bomb other peoples.

The conventional wisdom seemed to be that military personnel favored war. Yet, wrote Timothy Egan in the New York Times in 2011, Paul had “more financial support from active duty members of the service than any other politician.” At one point Paul had collected 87 percent of the military contributions for GOP candidates.

As of March 2012, Paul had received more than twice the amount for Obama, almost ten times the amount for Mitt Romney, more than ten times as much as Newt Gingrich, and about 32 times the amount for Rick Santorum. The latter three were inveterate war hawks who themselves never served in the military. In contrast, Obama presented himself as a critic of unnecessary war.

Paul even led his Republican competitors among military contractors (though he trailed Obama). Analyst Loren Thompson explained that “Just because people work in the defense industry doesn’t mean that they always vote their economic interests.”

While service personnel are willing to serve in combat, most do not want to do so absent compelling circumstances. And few of the interests involved in Washington’s conflicts can be considered serious let alone vital. A Marine corps veteran who supported Paul told Egan that service members “realize they’re being utilized for other purposes—nation building and being world’s policeman—and it’s not what they signed up for.”

As I wrote in Rare: “Despite the support of so many military members, Ron Paul was never able to significantly broaden his appeal. Johnson has a unique opportunity given widespread dislike of his two major opponents.”

Who can keep Americans safe? That obviously is one of the most important questions this election. Uniformed military personnel are giving a surprising answer.

The so-called Islamic State is losing ground. The liberation of Mosul, Iraq’s third most populous city, may be the Baghdad government’s next objective.

Yet even as the “caliphate” shrinks in the Middle East, Daesh, as the group also is known, is increasing its murderous attacks on Western civilians. Washington’s intervention actually has endangered Americans.

In contrast to al-Qaeda, which always conducted terrorism, ISIS originally focused on creating a caliphate, or quasi-state. Daesh’s territorial designed conflicted with many nations in the Mideast: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Turkey, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon, and the Gulf kingdoms.

The Obama administration did not intervene out of necessity: ISIS ignored America. Moreover, the movement faced enemies which collectively had a million men under arms; several possessed sophisticated air forces.

Washington’s concern for those being killed by the Islamic State was real, but casualties lagged well behind the number of deaths in other lands routinely ignored by the U.S. The administration seemed most motivated by the sadistic murder of two Americans who had been captured by ISIS in Syria. Although barbaric, these acts did not justify intervention in another Mideast war.

Washington took control of the anti-ISIS campaign but waged a surprisingly lackluster effort. The administration recognized that there was no domestic support for ground troops so mixed bombing and drone strikes with support for “moderate” Syrian rebels, who proved to be generally ineffective.

Turkey sought to play the U.S., pushing Washington to oust Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, while tolerating Daesh. The Syrian government attempted to use the specter of the Islamic State to weaken Western support for its overthrow.

Iraq’s Shia-dominated government wanted a bail-out while maintaining sectarian rule. The Sunni Gulf countries expected America to take care of their problems, as usual. Saudi Arabia dragged Washington into a most foolish military diversion, a war with Yemen’s Houthis.

Now ISIS is in retreat—it has lost almost half of the territory it held in Iraq and one-fifth in Syria. But the group remains surprisingly resilient for an increasingly unpopular and only modestly armed group facing a coalition including the U.S., Europe, and most of the Middle East.

Unfortunately, defeat has turned Daesh toward terrorism, including in the West. As was predictable.

After the horrid attacks in Paris late last year, French President Francois Hollande declared that his nation was at war. But it had been bombing ISIS-held territory for 14 months. The only surprise was that it took Daesh so long to retaliate so spectacularly.

Had the U.S. and Europe left the battle to those directly threatened, the latter would have had no choice but to take the lead. And the fight would have been largely contained within the Middle East. The Islamic State would have had to focus on the enemy literally at its gates, rather than its abstract Western enemies afar.

As ISIS recedes Washington should step back. Unfortunately, the administration’s plan to increase U.S. forces by 560 to about 6000 for the coming Mosul assault will tie America more closely to the sectarian government in Baghdad and its close partner, Iran-supported Shia militias which have committed numerous civilian atrocities.

Washington understandably prefers an unsympathetic Iraqi government to a threatening Islamic State. But should be left responsible for its own mistakes and crimes.

Seeking to build up a “moderate” insurgency to battle both Damascus and ISIS has proved to be mostly a fool’s errand. Backing Riyadh in Yemen is a disaster. Saudi Arabia has turned the long-running insurgency into a sectarian conflict, while Yemenis blame America for civilian atrocities committed by the Saudis.

As I wrote in National Interest: “America faces a genuine terrorist threat, though it is largely indigenous, inspired by foreign killers. Alas, the number of terrorists will continue to increase as Washington makes other people’s conflicts its own. The U.S. must learn to focus on its own enemies.”