Libertarian Advocacy for Eliminating Penalties Against Illegal Aliens

Writing for the libertarian CATO institute, Alex Nowrasteh wrote on April 23, “Removing the 3/10 Year Bars Is Not Amnesty.” He advocated the elimination of the penalty adopted in 1996 that required an alien who stayed illegally in the U.S. to remain outside the country for a period of three to ten years – the greater penalty for illegal residents for more than one year – before being eligible to legally return.

His argument for eliminating the penalty was that it has led to a major drop in the voluntary departure of illegal aliens, and, he adds, is one reason the number of illegal alien residents soared. He reasons that the adoption of an enhanced enforcement measure had the effect of increasing the illegal alien population.

That argument is not credible if it is put in context. That context is a major strengthening of enforcement against illegal immigration on the southern border. This resulted from a major increase in Border Patrol staffing, fencing, technological upgrades, and other measures. The resulting difficulty in successfully entering the country across that border resulted in an increased reliance upon alien smugglers to guide illegal entrants. And, that meant smuggling fees that increased with the increasing difficulty in breaching he border.


For that reason, illegal residents became increasingly loathe to return to their home countries for visits. That was not the only reason, however. At the same time, the network of formerly illegal aliens granted amnesty in 1986 and subsequent measures tended to spread out from traditional rural agricultural jobs to find new jobs in construction and services away from the border. From there they sent messages to their friends and relatives abroad that jobs were easy to find with inexpensive fake identity cards. When coming to those new job opportunities, the illegal aliens were more inclined to bring family members with them.

These two factors are sufficient to explain the rise in the illegal alien population without any recourse to the contrived argument that the rise was due to the three to ten year penalty for illegal residence. Of course, the CATO Institute is a champion of amnesty for illegal aliens, so it is not surprising that it would endorse measures that chip away at enforcement measures and would result in a greater ability for illegal aliens to take advantage of a backdoor route to legal residence.


About Author


Jack, who joined FAIR’s National Board of Advisors in 2017, is a retired U.S. diplomat with consular experience. He has testified before the U.S. Congress, U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform and has authored studies of immigration issues. His national and international print, TV, and talk radio experience is extensive (including in Spanish).


  1. avatar

    Personally, I’m of the opinion that Plyler vs. Doe in 1982 greatly encouraged illegal aliens to not only remain here but to bring their families. Wouldn’t you, if you knew your kids would get a better, “free” education here? And we didn’t have 3- and 10-year bars in 1986, did we? Those weren’t around until 1996, yet in 1986, we had more than 3 million illegal aliens who received amnesty.

  2. avatar

    These people never ever want to acknowledge the end result of what they say. So if we don’t enforce the borders, then more people will actually leave? No, MORE will come here. Some might go back and forth, but more will actually stay. Does anyone really believe this drivel? I guess if we pile the money outside the bank, bank robbers won’t come in and hold their guns on the tellers? Sure, but would bank robberies go down. I don’t think so.

    • avatar
      Erik Kengaard on

      Cato has been a shill for corporate America for years, and fully supports any policy that will result in cheap labor. Dan Griswold, and now Alex Nowrasteh, continue churning out propaganda to support the Koch agenda.
      Cato’s publicists have refused to acknowledge the impact of immigration on employment, cost of living, environmental degradation and other disastrous consequences.
      Reminds me of the Sierra Club, once a proponent of zero population growth, bought off for one million dollars.