ILW.COM - the immigration portal Immigration Daily

Home Page

Immigration Daily


Processing times

Immigration forms

Discussion board



Twitter feed

Immigrant Nation


CLE Workshops

Immigration books

Advertise on ILW

VIP Network




Connect to us

Make us Homepage



The leading
immigration law
publisher - over
50000 pages of
free information!
© 1995-
Immigration LLC.

View RSS Feed

Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Where Cato Gets It Wrong on Asylum

Rate this Entry
The Cato Institute's Alex Nowrasteh recently published a piece in the Huffington Post called Saving the Asylum System. The title accurately reflects the author's point, and of course I agree that our asylum system should be preserved (and--really--cherished). But where Mr. Nowrasteh gets it wrong, I think, is his analysis of the problem.

Recipe for a refugee: Take one economic migrant, add persecutors, mix thoroughly.

The "fundamental problem" according to Mr. Nowrasteh is that intending economic migrants who arrive illegally at the border and get caught are requesting asylum as a way of gaining entry into the U.S. to work. He views this as an "unintended consequence of severe restrictions that make it exceedingly difficult for lower-skilled immigrants to enter the country legally." He posits that "creating a low-skilled guest worker visa program to channel would-be unauthorized immigrants into the legal system [would remove] the incentive for some of them to make dubious asylum claims."

is a Libertarian think tank, and Mr. Nowrasteh's proposal is a Libertarian solution (free flow of labor and all that).

Before I respond, I must admit to a certain prejudice against Libertarianism in general. To use a fancy law school word, I find the whole philosophy jejune. It seems perfectly fine for high school juniors with Ayn Rand fantasies, but I feel it fails utterly in the real world. In other words, to me, "Libertarian think tank" is an oxymoron. On the other hand, I have some good friends who are staunch Libertarians, and sometimes they even give me free cigars (though I suppose this must be in exchange for some utility they get from my company--or maybe they just hope I die from lung cancer). So perhaps I am being a bit too harsh. Anyway, the point is, it's only fair to put my prejudice on the table before I respond.

That said, I think that Mr. Nowrasteh is simply wrong that most--or even a significant portion--of asylum seekers are economic migrants. To be sure, asylum seekers come to the U.S. (as opposed to Namibia, for example) because they can settle here, get a job, and build a new life. But this does not make them economic migrants in the normal sense of the phrase. Economic migrants are not fleeing their country because their life or freedom is threatened; they are leaving for a better job.

Stated another way, with all immigrants (including asylum seekers) there is a push and a pull. For refugees, the most important "push" factor is a threat to life or freedom in the home country. For economic migrants, the push is a bad economic situation. The pull for both groups is freedom, opportunity, peace, the ability to gain acceptance, and all the other tangibles and intangibles of "America."

So why do I think that most asylum seekers are not economic migrants who file fraudulent asylum claims in order to circumvent immigration restrictions?

The main reason, I must admit, is anecdotal. I have represented hundreds of asylum seekers, and while I have suspicions about the motivations of some clients, most clearly face threats in their home countries. Also, many of my clients held good jobs in their home countries and they are unlikely to achieve the same level of success in the United States (due to language barriers, lack of transferable skills, etc.).

Another reason I believe that asylum seekers are not mere economic migrants is because countries that produce large numbers of asylum seekers have widespread human rights problems. The source country for the most asylum seekers in the U.S. is--by far--China. Of late, China has produced between 20 and 25% of affirmative asylum cases and a whopping 45% of defensive asylum grants in FY2013. China has a repressive government and--probably more importantly for purposes of this discussion--Congress passed a law to provide asylum to victims of forced family planning, and these people come almost exclusively from China. While the U.S. economy provides more opportunities than China's, the repressive nature of the government combined with a special law to help Chinese asylum seekers suggests that asylum applicants from China are more than just economic migrants--they are refugees.

A possible counter argument here is that the increase in credible fear applicants, who have lately been overwhelming the asylum system, comes from people arriving from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, which all have very low asylum grant rates. There are two reasons why I think this argument fails, however. First, many people seeking asylum from these countries face severe threats and persecution from gangs and cartels, or from crime and domestic violence. Such people are genuinely afraid (for good reason), but they rarely qualify for asylum since they cannot show that the feared harm is "on account of" a protected ground. Second, all these countries are very violent places. The less violent countries in the region--Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama--have weak economies compared to the U.S. (especially mi país Nicaragua, which is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere aside from Haiti). If Mr. Nowrasteh's theory is correct, we would expect these countries to be sending us comparable numbers of (fraudulent) asylum seekers, but they are not. To me, all this supports the notion that people leaving the region and seeking asylum in the U.S. are driven more by a fear of harm than by the desire for a better job.

So in the end, while I am happy that the Cato Institute is thinking creatively about ways to preserve our asylum system, I am not convinced by their analysis. While a guest worker program (especially for Mexico and Central America) might marginally reduce the number of asylum seekers, the overlap between refugees and economic migrants is pretty minimal. If we want to reduce the number of asylum seekers at our Southern border, we should spend more time supporting good governance in the region and less time meddling in our neighbors' affairs.

Originally posted on the Asylumist:

Submit "Where Cato Gets It Wrong on Asylum" to Facebook Submit "Where Cato Gets It Wrong on Asylum" to Twitter Submit "Where Cato Gets It Wrong on Asylum" to Google Submit "Where Cato Gets It Wrong on Asylum" to StumbleUpon Submit "Where Cato Gets It Wrong on Asylum" to Reddit Submit "Where Cato Gets It Wrong on Asylum" to Digg Submit "Where Cato Gets It Wrong on Asylum" to


  1. MKolken's Avatar
    "If we want to reduce the number of asylum seekers at our Southern border, we should spend more time supporting good governance in the region and less time meddling in our neighbors' affairs."

    Agreed. How very "Libertarian" of you.

    It should also be noted that many asylum seekers on the Southern Border are fleeing from
    violent Mexican cartels armed with thousands of American weapons provided by our own government.

    Incidentally, I suggest you check out the Libertarian Party's stance on the issues. I think once you have a better understanding of the practical application of Libertarianism to modern politics you may re-consider your prejudices of the party. As a starting point see:

    Updated 04-30-2014 at 10:40 AM by MKolken
  2. JDzubow's Avatar
    I will check it out, thank you Mathew. But prejudice dies hard, and I spent a lot of time arguing with my Libertarian friend (and smoking excellent cigars), so it is hard to change now..
  3. Someone12's Avatar
    Of course, the fact that you rake in around $20,000 per asylum case has little to do with your 'unbiased' opinion....asylum should be eliminated...all we get is a bunch of freeloaders, who arrive ready to spin any tale necessary to gain access to America...and thanks to 'noble practitioners' like you, many succeed....hope you sleep well at night, while you are selling out America to the lowlifes of the world....
  4. Anowrasteh's Avatar
    My oped was about a subset of a subset of those seeking asylum who use a loophole. Clearly I don't mean that "most" or even a very large percentage of asylees are just economic migrants in disguise.
  5. JDzubow's Avatar
    Someone - Actually, I make about $100,000 per case. Refugees have a lot of money to throw around, so I am living large. I am sure you too are accomplishing useful things with your life too.
    Updated 05-01-2014 at 08:20 AM by JDzubow
  6. JDzubow's Avatar
    Anowerasteh - Fair enough. And obviously some asylum seekers are economic migrants in disguise. My main point is that I do not think a guest worker program will make much dent in the current influx of asylum seekers. Also, to be fair, I did not address all the points in your article, which were quite interesting.
  7. anowrasteh's Avatar
    I think many of those who tried to enter unlawfully along the SWB and then sought asylum after being apprehended, the target of my oped, are much more likely to be economic migrants than other asylum seekers and would likely have entered on a lower skilled guest worker visa if one was available. But we can disagree about that.
  8. JDzubow's Avatar
    The problem is the lack of data. I disagree based on anecdotal evidence (my cases and people I know or have heard about). I agree that most people entering from Mexico and C. America probably do not meet the legal definition of refugee, but that is due to lack of nexus, not fear of harm. Really, one area where Cato and other policy organization can help is to advocate for more data about who is coming and why. Without more info, it is difficult to make rational policy decisions.
  9. Someone12's Avatar
    What I am NOT doing is selling out my fellow American citizens to lowlifes from around the world in exchange for the almighty dollar...the only object of worship for immigration of two parasitic 'occupations' in this country...(TV evangelists being the other)....I am sure that most patriotic Americans would love to thank you personally for helping liars and thieves gain access to our nation...yea....great job....
  10. Lynn Atherton Bloxham's Avatar
    Good suggestions (except for the anti immigration poster).
    Study the Libertarian Party and the writings of the greater libertarian economists and writers. Good point also that Cato help with data accumulation.
    Neither the Democrats nor Republicans understand the complexities of the current system and how unworkable for any level of justice it is.
    May I also suggest The Independent Institute's papers on Immigration and OpenBorder, the Case for good debate.
    PS I am a just little older than the libertarian you describe. 74 and counting.
Put Free Immigration Law Headlines On Your Website

Immigration Daily: the news source for legal professionals. Free! Join 35000+ readers Enter your email address here: