Cato Report on the Difficulties of Legal Immigration: Detailed and Creative, but Fundamentally Flawed

By David North on July 26, 2023

A libertarian think tank, the Cato Institute, issued a comprehensive report in June on the difficulties of immigration to the U.S.; the report is, simultaneously, detailed and creative, and supportive of an insane immigration policy.

It is entitled “Why Legal Immigration is Nearly Impossible,” and was written by David Bier of its staff. As the title suggests it provides a richly detailed account of how our multitudinous immigration rules and regulations make it difficult to migrate. But it also presents a skewed picture of our immigration policies. 

There are eighty-eight pages of often dense prose in small type, two appendices, eight tables, 17 boxes, 28 figures, and 441 footnotes; in a scholarly flourish the footnotes continue even unto the back cover of the report – not the last page of the text or the inner cover of the report, but to the back cover, something that I have not seen before. That last wrinkle appears to be a graphic expression of a boast “I am more scholarly than thou.”

Along the way there is some very interesting material. For example, Figure 11 on page 23, is a chart showing 15 varieties of relatives of Americans grouped into four classes of their immigration eligibility; either they are eligible for unlimited immigration (such as spouses and some children of citizens), or eligible within caps for such status, or they are admissions-capped relatives of green card holders, or ineligible (such as grandparents).

A nuance as to the latter: alien grandparents are, by definition, also parents; should their children become citizens, yesterday’s ineligible grandparents become today’s eligible parents, a small loophole that the report ignores.

Also interesting: the foreign nation with the longest list of backlogged religious workers in the EB-4 category is Guatemala.

The report also shows that only one of 1,500 American new hires are “employer-sponsored immigrants” (p.35), undermining any arguments that we really “need” immigrants in the labor market.

There is also a seemingly comprehensive chart, for which a magnifying glass may be needed, on page 47, which shows each and every step along the way for those seeking a green card from the employment-based green card process. 

The report’s conclusion (almost hidden on page 58) is that “Congress should overhaul the system to open legal immigration for any person willing to work to contribute to the success of the United States.”

Note that the requirement is not that a potential migrant must have a job in the U.S. it is that the would-be migrant simply be willing to work here. If Congress were to do Cato’s bidding, after a few years the U.S. labor market, to the delight of our plutocrats, would begin to resemble that of Bangladesh.

Comment: While the Cato report is seemingly comprehensive in its description of our immigration system, it pays little attention to the following significant matters:

  • the fact that our overall, de facto policy tolerates massive illegal migration which pays no attention at all to the rules of the game; 
  • the fact that within our legal system’s limits, about 85-90 percent of the applications are approved;
  • the fact; that the U.S. has more than one million new legal immigrants (green card recipients) each year, half of whom are already here, and that despite our restrictions we take on more legal immigrants than any other nation in the world;
  • the fact that it is useful for the vast majority of our population that we have a restricted immigration policy. 

Otherwise, an interesting read.