April 23, 2018 10:21AM

U.S. Approves Far Fewer Muslim Refugees, Immigrants, & Travelers

President Trump’s campaign promise to ban all Muslim immigration will play an important role in the arguments against his “travel ban” executive order at the Supreme Court this week. While Trump later clarified that the “Muslim ban” actually referred to more targeted policies — such as the ban on certain countries and other “extreme vetting” measures — he consistently argued that the goals of the Muslim ban and these other policies were the same. It is now apparent that these policies are working.

91 Percent Drop in Muslim Refugees

During the campaign, Trump referred to Muslim refugees as a “Trojan horse” that could bring down the United States from the inside. Not surprisingly then, Muslim refugees have seen their numbers slashed most dramatically. From October 2015 through December 2016 (“FY 2016”), monthly arrivals of Muslim refugees averaged 3,076 (Figure 1). From January 2017 through October 2017 (“FY 2017”), they fell to 951 per month. During the first six months of FY 2018, they have fallen to just 275 per month — 91 percent below their rate in FY 2016. Sunni Muslims have seen their numbers cut by 98 percent and Shi’ite Muslims by 86 percent.

At the same time, however, President Trump is not keeping his promise to prioritize Christian refugees. Their numbers have plummeted as well, falling 63 percent from 2016 to 2018. Nonetheless, Muslims were disproportionately affected. In 2016, one in two refugees were Muslim, while just 1 in 6 were in 2018.

26 Percent Drop in Immigrants from Majority Muslim Countries

The State Department issues visas to immigrants — i.e. permanent residents — and nonimmigrants or temporary visitors, guest workers, and students. It does not record the religious affiliation of immigrant visa applicants, but its data indicate a substantial decline in immigrant visa approvals for nationals from the 48 majority Muslim countries — more than a quarter below the prior rate.

In Fiscal Year 2016 (“FY 2016”), immigrants from majority Muslim countries averaged 9,787 permanent residency visas per month. The State Department has only published monthly data starting in March 2017, but from March 2017 to September 2017 (“FY 2017”), monthly arrivals fell to an average of 8,366. From October 2017 to February 2018 (“FY 2018”), they averaged just 7,241 — 26 percent below the rate for FY 2016. The share of immigrants from majority Muslim countries also fell from 19 percent to 16 percent.

32 Percent Drop in Temporary Visa Issuances from Majority Muslim Countries

Temporary visa applicants also do not tell the State Department their religious affiliation, but the department’s data show a large decline in approvals for nationals of the 48 majority Muslim countries—nearly a third below the prior rate. In Fiscal Year 2016 (“FY 2016”), travelers from majority Muslim countries averaged 71,407 visa approvals per month. The State Department has only published monthly data starting in March 2017, but from March 2017 to September 2017 (“FY 2017”), monthly arrivals averaged 8,366. From October 2017 to February 2018 (“FY 2018”), they fell to 7,241 — 26 percent below the rate for FY 2016. The share of travelers from these countries also fell from 8.3 percent to 7.5 percent.

As I have noted before, during the last decade, majority Muslim countries have never — even during the recession — seen temporary visa issuances fall by more than 1 percent in a single year and immigrant visas never more than 7 percent. From 2007 to 2016, temporary visa approvals for nationals of these countries actually grew 8 percent annually and permanent visas 9 percent annually. Again, compared to the expected increases, the declines are even more remarkable.

“Travel Ban” Countries: 60 Percent Drop in Both Temporary & Immigrant Visas

Of the 48 majority Muslim countries, 33 saw immigrant visas fall, while 45 saw temporary visa numbers decline (excepting Albania, Kosovo, and the Gambia). Some nationalities were much more negatively affected than others. President Trump has, at various times, placed eight majority Muslim countries on his “travel ban” lists: Iraq (January 2017 to March 2017), Sudan (January 2017 to September 2017), Chad (September 2017 to April 2018), Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen (all January 2017 to now). These countries have seen much more severe declines in immigrant and nonimmigrant visa issuances.

Nationals of the eight majority Muslim travel ban countries have seen immigrant visa issuances fall from 2,654 per month in FY 2016 to 918 per month in FY 2018, a 65 percent decline. These nationals saw their nonimmigrant visa approvals fall from 5,851 per month in FY 2016 to 2,279 in FY 2018, a 61 percent decline. Despite the president removing Iraq and Sudan from the list, their visa numbers did not recover. The declines for each country started before the Supreme Court allowed the travel ban to take partial effect in June and then full effect in December, but they fell more steeply after each ruling.

Causes of the Decline

The decreases in Muslim arrivals have multiple causes. Refugee admissions are entirely controlled by presidential proclamations. President Trump initially suspended the refugee program, and then, when blocked by the courts, he simply cut the refugee limit in half. His administration has failed even to achieve this target. The administration also directly controls the type of refugees admitted, so the entire decline in Muslim refugee numbers and their share of total arrivals is a consequence of policy choices. President Trump promised to “prioritize” Christian refugees, and while he has cut the number of Christians as well, he has increased their share of total numbers.

Travel ban countries also explain more than two thirds (68 percent) of the decline in immigrant visa issuances from 2016 to 2018, implying that the explicit singling out of those nationalities — including the ones subsequently removed from the list — had a major effect on their ability to obtain or willingness to apply for visas. Travel ban countries also account for 16 percent of the decrease in temporary or nonimmigrant visa issuances from 2016 to 2018. This implies, however, that other causes may be more important in driving that trend.

The State Department rolled out a new “extreme vetting” form, the DS-5535, that requires far more documentation from visa applicants, in the State Department’s words, “who have been deemed to warrant additional scrutiny” (i.e. Muslim applicants). This form — in conjunction with other policies — have resulted in more Muslim visa applications disappearing into the “administrative processing” queue, according to a new report from the American Immigration Lawyer’s Association (AILA). “Administrative processing” is code for “meets the requirements but subject to further security screening.” Unfortunately, the State Department publishes no figures on the frequency of this phenomenon.

Anecdotal reports of visa denials for Muslim applicants began to receive attention in 2017, but the State Department fails to publish visa refusal figures by country of origin, so we cannot put hard numbers behind the reports. Muslim travelers may also want to avoid the United States during President Trump’s presidency. His rhetoric may have scared off some visitors, and stories of lengthy detentions and other mistreatment of Muslims at airports and border checkpoints may discourage others.


President Trump appears to be fulfilling his campaign promise. The United States is accepting the fewest Muslim refugees in decades, and immigration from the Muslim world has received an unprecedented cut under his administration. On the campaign trail, President Trump assured voters that the Muslim ban would be a “temporary ban.” In the coming months, we will find out how temporary these policies discouraging Muslim immigration turn out to be.

April 22, 2018 8:24AM

Happy Earth Day!

In honor of April 22, consider this picture:

Trends in Leaf Area Index, 1978-2009. Positive tones are greening, negative are browning, and the dots delineate where the changes are statistically significant. There is approximately 9 times more area significantly greening up than browning down.

It’s taken from Zhu et al’s 2016 paper, “Greening of the Earth and its Drivers.” “Leaf Area Index” is a measure of the density of vegetation cover. It’s positive over most of the planet, and especially so in the purple‐​shaded regions, which are mainly the tropical rainforest, the most diverse and revered of our ecosystems. 

Only 4% of the surface shows the opposite, or a significant “browning.” The causes of the planetary greening? In a word, “us.” According to the Zhu et al., 91% of the greening is attributable to human activity. Perhaps it’s best to simply quote from the paper:

Factorial simulations with multiple global ecosystem models suggest that CO2 fertilization effects explain 70% of the observed greening trend, followed by nitrogen deposition (9%), climate change (8%) and land cover change (LCC) (4%). CO2 fertilization effects explain most of the greening trends in the tropics, whereas climate change resulted in greening of the high latitudes and the Tibetan Plateau.

Again, Happy Earth Day!

April 21, 2018 4:09PM

Adapting U.S. Foreign Policy to a Changing World

The dramatic news that CIA Director Mike Pompeo met in secret with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over the Easter weekend has renewed hopes that one of the world’s most dangerous stand offs might be resolved without war. President Donald Trump confirmed via Twitter that details for a summit meeting were “being worked out” and predicted “Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!” The good feelings continued during the week, with Kim announcing on Saturday that the North no longer needs to conduct nuclear or missile tests.

Americans should welcome such prospects, but South Koreans have reason to be wary. They have the most to lose from conflict on the peninsula, a real possibility if negotiations fail. After all, President Trump has an uneven track record when it comes to making promises and following through. And even as he boasts of his success in getting the North to the negotiating table, he has also said that he wouldn't attend the summit if he thought it wasn't worth it. Unsurprisingly, the South Koreans have also been engaged in direct talks with the North. South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet Kim next week. There has even been speculation that talks could end the Korean War. For now, however, and thinking beyond secret meetings and high-level summits, South Korea’s future, in a very real sense, still hinges on the decisions and actions of men and women living in the United States.

Although that has been the case for decades, it can't ever be a comforting feeling, and that sentiment informed an essay just published in the New York Times. As I note, the process mostly played out well, for both the United States, for South Korea, and for regional stability:

Under American tutelage, South Korea eventually evolved from a desperately poor autocracy to one of the wealthiest democracies on the planet. American taxpayers continue to spend billions of dollars a year to help maintain regional security. A similar process played out in other parts of Asia and in Europe, where the American security umbrella, including tens of thousands of military personnel, provided room for those countries’ leaders to build strong democracies and economies.

American leaders argued that such policies served the cause of global peace and security. They also reasoned that the substantial costs would be tolerable. And, so long as American productivity and workers’ wages were rising, it seemed that Uncle Sam could ensure a decent standard of living at home and security around the world.

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April 20, 2018 3:12PM

Show Me the (Education) Money!

With teacher strikes and demonstrations in several states tied not just to teacher compensation, but also the belief that public schooling has been starved for resources, it is worth looking at the spending data. Not trying to say what “fair” teacher pay is, or the degree to which spending may affect test scores; just seeing what we’ve been spending, and how it has changed over the years.

Let’s start with relatively recent history, the only span of years for which the federal government has readily available, total per‐​pupil spending data for public K‑12 schools at the state level. (These data were assembled by pulling from the version of this table for every year and adjusting for inflation.) We want to look at total spending because taxpayers don’t just spend money for operating costs such as teacher salaries, but also on things like new school buildings, expenditures only included in total cost tabulations.

Look at the colorful figure below — every state is a line — and you will see that inflation‐​adjusted spending generally went up, on average (the bold, black line) from $11,132 in 99 – 00 to $13,187 in the 2014 – 15 school year, an 18 percent real increase. Of course, as you can see, there are some states that spent a lot more at the outset — and boosted spending much more over time — than others.

Media Name: all_states_spending.jpg

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April 20, 2018 10:06AM

Does Pruitt Have a Point about Science?

Scott Pruitt, the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is loathed by most researchers and environmentalists, but he may yet emerge as science’s unlikely redeemer.

Pruitt is one of the least popular people in America. Before coming to DC, he was the attorney general of Oklahoma, where he described himself as “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda,”— a claim he made good by suing the Agency no fewer than 14 times.

But Pruitt — who in public appears reasonable, quietly-spoken and polite — denies having declared war on the environment, only on the EPA’s scientific protocols. The 1970 Clean Air Act requires the agency, when proposing new regulations, use criteria that “accurately reflect the latest scientific knowledge.”  

Governmental skepticism of science has a long pedigree. On launching Medicare on June 15, 1966, LBJ berated the National Institutes of Health for having published lots of papers without their having benefited any patients. Earlier, in his Farewell Address, Eisenhower warned of US public policy becoming “the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” Now Pruitt maintains that skeptical tradition by challenging the EPA’s science—and by extension, much of the way research is performed in the U.S. today.

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April 20, 2018 9:46AM

The Canadian Supreme Court Turns Down a Chance To Establish Free Trade Within Canada

I previously blogged about a Canadian constitutional challenge to a New Brunswick restriction on purchasing beer from other provinces and bringing it back to New Brunswick. The Canadian Supreme Court ruled on the case yesterday, and, unfortunately, declined its opportunity to establish a broad principle of free trade within Canada.

The constitutional provision at issue, Section 121, states:

All Articles of the Growth, Produce, or Manufacture of any one of the Provinces shall, from and after the Union, be admitted free into each of the other Provinces.

On its face, that sounds pretty broad. But the court came up with a narrow interpretation of the scope of provincial measures that are prohibited:

[114]   In summary, two things are required for s. 121  to be violated. The law must impact the interprovincial movement of goods like a tariff, which, in the extreme, could be an outright prohibition. And, restriction of cross-border trade must be the primary purpose of the law, thereby excluding laws enacted for other purposes, such as laws that form rational parts of broader legislative schemes with purposes unrelated to impeding interprovincial trade.

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April 19, 2018 4:13PM

The $1/​Day Standard & Other Problems with DHS’s Public Charge Rule

The Trump administration has given notice of its intent to expand a current rule denying certain immigration applications to “public charges”—that is, people who are likely to rely on the government for their support. “The primary benefit of the proposed rule would be to help ensure that aliens . . . are self-sufficient,” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) writes in a leaked version of the draft regulation. This intention coheres with Cato proposals to move immigrants (and everyone else) off government support, but the rule itself has serious problems that will have a net negative effect on government budgets.

Since 1891, federal immigration law has denied visas or status to foreigners deemed “likely to become a public charge” in the United States. The likely public charge law does not directly prevent immigrants from legally receiving welfare. Rather, it prevents them from receiving legal status in the United States if a government bureaucrat predicts that they could end up at some point in the future depending on welfare that the law allows them to receive. This draft rule would alter the procedures governing how DHS bureaucrats make these likely public charge predictions. It would apply to anyone in the United States applying to adjust or extend their status in the country or those seeking to enter the country for the first time.

DHS’s current guidance from 1999 defines public charge to mean “primarily dependent” on welfare, as demonstrated with the receipt of certain cash welfare programs. This new rule would redefine the term to mean receipt of any government assistance, including refundable tax credits, in any amount greater than 3 percent of the poverty line—$1 per day for a single person or 50 cents per day per person for a family of four, respectively, over the course of any year of their lives. In addition, it counts the use of public benefits by U.S. citizens—spouses, children, or parents—who depend on the immigrant. To predict future use, the rule requires adjudicators to consider a list of seven factors and at least 19 pieces of evidence.

Brief Overview of the Draft Rule’s Problems

The new rule has seven particularly serious problems.

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