When It Doesn’t Matter that 2 + 2 = 4

Statistical analysis is a great tool for objective research. Numerical data can often provide useful insight when making policy decisions. But not everything is a math problem. And sometimes the statistically improbable course of action is the best one.

Nevertheless, economists sometimes address unquantifiable concerns about the social and cultural effects of unchecked mass migration with numerical analysis. Alex Nowrasteh, of the Cato Institute loves reducing complex immigration issues to misleading mathematical equations, then proclaiming that he has led us all from darkness into the light of unerring truth.

Now, in an essay that is offensively insensitive, Mr. Nowrasteh argues that the recent murder of Border Patrol agent Rogelio Martinez is not a valid reason for building a border wall or increasing spending on border security.

Why? Because, according to Mr. Nowrasteh, before we do anything rash, like securing our borders against foreign incursion, we must assess “how many Border Patrol agents are murdered in the line of duty” in order to determine “how deadly [their]occupation really is.” Translated into English, that means it’s okay to gamble with the lives of our immigration enforcement officers, as long as only a few of them die while doing their jobs.

That’s an absurd proposition. There should never be an acceptable number of Border Patrol agents killed in the line of duty – ever! It’s also a proposition derived from a series of false comparisons:

  • Border patrol agents are overwhelmingly male and fit. And 100 percent of them are armed and trained in self-defense tactics. Therefore, comparing the number of Border Patrol agents murdered in the line of duty to the general homicide rate for the entire U.S. – without any attempts to correct for age, health, defense training or involvement in criminal activity – is like comparing apples to elephants.
  • The assertion that Border Patrol agents are less likely to be killed at work than other law enforcement officers is based on a comparison of the line of duty death rates for all law enforcement officers in the U.S. with the Border Patrol death rate. However, large urban police agencies such as the NYPD, LAPD, and Chicago PD tend to skew the statistics, as they work in unusually violent environments. A much more apt comparison would have been between the Border Patrol (which works mostly in austere, low-population, rural environments) and rural sheriff’s departments that operate in similar terrain.

Common sense tends to indicate that a physical barrier on the southern border would lower the likelihood of Border Patrol agents being killed. After all, if illegal aliens can’t get across the border, they generally can’t assault the officers we have hired to police our frontiers. It may not be a “one stop” solution but it is a step in the right direction.  Most Americans understand that intuitively. That’s why they elected President Trump.

So Mr. President, focus on the numbers that really matter – 18 feet high or 30 feet high – and build that wall!

About Author


Matthew J. O’Brien joined the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in 2016. Matt is responsible for managing FAIR’s research activities. He also writes content for FAIR’s website and publications. Over the past twenty years he has held a wide variety of positions focusing on immigration issues, both in government and in the private sector. Immediately prior to joining FAIR Matt served as the Chief of the National Security Division (NSD) within the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate (FDNS) at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), where he was responsible for formulating and implementing procedures to protect the legal immigration system from terrorists, foreign intelligence operatives, and other national security threats. He has also held positions as the Chief of the FDNS Policy and Program Development Unit, as the Chief of the FDNS EB-5 Division, as Assistant Chief Counsel with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, as a Senior Advisor to the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman, and as a District Adjudications Officer with the legacy Immigration & Naturalization Service. In addition, Matt has extensive experience as a private bar attorney. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in French from the Johns Hopkins University and a Juris Doctor from the University of Maine School of Law.


  1. Pingback: Washington Post Says Support for Wall = “White Nationalism”

  2. avatar

    Nowrasteh is one of those people that will never answer the question of how many is enough. He worships the golden calf of immigration where any and all concerns about the environment, welfare usage, overcrowded cities and highways, dwindling water supplies and many other things are all covered with the phrase “it grows the economy”. Yeah, India’s economy grows every year and their population grows by over ten million a year. They are choking in pollution and poverty.