Problems with Statistics on Refugees

Matt Y. over at Ricochet makes the argument that American Christians should welcome the refugees from the Middle East instead of opposing their resettlement here. He does make some good points, but he also uses the following statistic, which seems irrelevant to this argument:

The likelihood of being killed by a terrorist attack from a refugee in the United States has been calculated at 1 in 3.6 billion.

I think there are three problems here, and this is the second article I've seen these same three problems show up in, so I'd like to address it.

First, there is no real opposition to "refugees," but rather "Muslim refugees from nations with Muslim terror problems." In fact, among Americans who oppose taking in more Muslim refugees, I suspect there would be a strong willingness to take in Christian and Yazidi refugees from these same regions. The conflation of terms here implies a general xenophobia rather than specific concerns about a specific population, and although I don't think it is intentional, it is insulting.

Second, limiting the geographical area to the United States is also problematic because most of the Muslim refugees from nations with Muslim terror problems have gone to other places, such as Europe. So, to be relevant, one should include all nations that have accepted these refugees.

Third, the fear of taking large numbers of these particular refugees is not limited to terrorism. When Europe began taking in large numbers of these refugees, there were immediate problems with  sexual assault and other crimes.

Because of these factors, it seems to me that the only really meaningful statistic would cover the particular refugee populations in question regardless of geographic area of resettlement and it would include all crimes, not just terrorism. If that statistic were used, I suspect the argument would look very different.

All that said, I have yet to see anyone arguing for bringing in 100,000 Muslim refugees from nations with Muslim terror problems address some of the deeper concerns of their opponents, including issues of long-term assimilation and the radicalization of second and third generation Muslims in Western nations. These are also important issues, and if someone wanted to change my mind about bringing in tens of thousands of Muslim refugees from nations with Muslim terror problems, they would have to address them as well.


Grim said...

The big thing nobody even knows how to talk about is this: second-generation immigrants from Muslim countries radicalize at twice the rate of their parents. That's not a crazy right wing American talking point -- it's from a study by statisticians in Denmark.

So, OK, we 'extreme vet' all the refugees. Fine. They come in, they bring kids or they have kids, and those kids radicalize at twice the rate of their parents. You can't 'vet' the kids. They may not even be born yet.

The issue isn't really one of vetting at all. It's of a basic friction between the West and the way that Islam is today. I don't say that this is permanent or that it can't be fixed, but I do think we have to say that this is the way it is. How do you fix it? That depends on the success of those Muslim reformers I was talking about recently, and they have a huge load to shift if they're going to succeed at all.

raven said...

I concur with Grim's statement.

And I don't know a thing about statistics, but if the chance is one out of 3.6 billion, and there are 8 odd billion on the planet, does this mean there have been 2 people killed by refugee terrorists?

I mean, the odds of being killed by almost anything, including redheaded dwarf Ugandan Baptists are greater than that. I think whoever came up with that stat made it up out of thin air.

Grim said...

It's way more than two, given that many of the Paris and Brussels attackers entered Europe as refugees.

Tom said...

Since they're limiting their statistic to the US, that means a chance of roughly 1 in 3.6 billion in the US alone. So, they aren't just adding up refugee terror attacks in the US and dividing by the population. They're making some other assumptions and calculating from them. Matt Y. didn't link his sources, so we don't know what those assumptions are.

Grim said...

It's CATO's study they're citing, so you can go look if you find the idea plausible enough to bother.

Grim said...

Texan99 said...

The entire argument generally consists of, "If you have any hesitation about this flood of immigrants on any grounds, you're an appalling human being and I refuse to discuss this with you further."

Tom said...

Thanks, Grim. It's actually a pretty interesting study, but it seems skewed.

In the end, it attempts to use a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether new immigration restrictions are beneficial or harmful. The reason it seems skewed is that it seems to include all of the benefits of immigration and compares them with just the costs of immigrant terrorism. I can't say for sure because it uses the benefit numbers from a couple of studies without explaining them. I would have to check to know. If the cited studies on the benefits take into account all non-terrorism costs (non-terrorism crime, resettlement of refugees, etc.), then to that extent the claim is much stronger.

However, on the costs of terrorism, it specifically does not include the costs of government reactions, such as shutting down air travel after 9/11 or shutting down Boston after the marathon bombing (p. 17). I'm not sure why this kind of cost was excluded, but I don't really think it should be, unless the author wants to argue the government should not respond to terrorist attacks.

Tom said...

One of the two studies cited on the benefits of immigration specifically excludes costs to government, so it is only calculating the benefits of immigration. (The other will have to wait.)

This is footnote 66 in the CATO report, Harvard economist George Borjas's "Immigration and the American Worker":

The executive summary is really pretty interesting, and here is its conclusion, quoted in its entirety:


Economists have long known that immigration redistributes income in the receiving society. Although immigration makes the aggregate economy larger, the actual net benefit accruing to natives is small, equal to an estimated two-tenths of 1 percent of GDP. There is little evidence indicating that immigration (legal and/or illegal) creates large net gains for native-born Americans.

Even though the overall net impact on natives is small, this does not mean that the wage losses suffered by some natives or the income gains accruing to other natives are not substantial. Some groups of workers face a great deal of competition from immigrants. These workers are primarily, but by no means exclusively, at the bottom end of the skill distribution, doing low-wage jobs that require modest levels of education. Such workers make up a significant share of the nation’s working poor. The biggest winners from immigration are owners of businesses that employ a lot of immigrant labor and other users of immigrant labor. The other big winners are the immigrants themselves.

Illegal immigration continues to vex the public and policymakers. Illegal immigrants have clearly benefited by living and working in the United States. Many business owners and users of immigrant labor have also benefited by having access to their labor. But some native-born Americans have also lost, and these losers likely include a disproportionate number of the poorest Americans.

Tom said...

Honestly, I don't have time to look at the other study right now. What we do know is that one of the two studies the CATO study used to establish the benefits of immigration ONLY considered the labor market benefits and explicitly excluded any government costs such as crime, refugee resettlement, etc.

I think it's fair to say, then, that the CATO study compared apples and oranges. All of the economic benefits of immigration, with none of the attendant government expenses, were pitted against the very limited costs of terrorism, and those costs excluded the costs of some fairly expensive government actions like grounded all air travel after 9/11.

Of course, this is separate from Matt Y's claims about the odds of getting killed by terrorists, but this doesn't bolster the credibility of his side in this argument.

Tom said...

Oh, on the numbers, the CATO report includes the years 1975-2015 and calculates the odds of being murdered by a terrorist each year. There were only 3 terrorist murders by refugees during that time. It doesn't really explain the math, but 3 murders over 40 years probably mathemagically ends up at their 1 in 3.6 billion odds.

Cassandra said...

First of all, being killed in a terrorist attack is NOT the only consequence of immigration. Acting as though it were is a gross oversimplification intended (IMO) to confuse the issues.

Second, the notion of assimilation (the cornerstone of American and most other countries' immigration policies) is under attack.

Third, the notion that the primary duty of a government is to its own citizens is under attack. Citizens who are told their elected officials have the exact same duty to people who aren't even in the country yet (or to people who came here illegally) that they do to the legal citizens who put them into office in the first place aren't inclined to trust said officials to keep them safe.

I don't fear legal immigration. I do have questions about immigration policy, particularly when we're talking about immigrants who come from countries with grossly different value systems and notions about human rights. You have only to look at current events in Germany (that judge who seemingly accepted the notion that it's OK for adults to violently rape children because really - how do adults know whether kids want to be raped?) for graphic examples of other consequences of bringing large numbers of people into your country that neither understand nor share your values.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Refugees are a subset of immigrants, and they tend to differ from them. The church of Sudanese refugees we support and used to teach at and help out with has a very high unemployment rate, and many of the kids receive help in school well beyond ESL adjustments. The Hispanic church two blocks over has a fraction of those problems.

Interestingly, because refugees often fled rather than made a planned leave and did not necessarily anticipate ever living in another culture, they seem to have less motivation to drop old cultural habits and adopt ours. They may be pleasant and friendly people, but they just don't see the need or see the point. Also, they remain much more concerned with what is happening "back home."

jaed said...

I have to admit I'm not completely sure why everyone seems to feel "bringing them here permanently" is the one and only sensible way to deal with refugees.

People need to flee their home country (or region within that country) because of war, gang violence, or other extremely dangerous conditions. Some of them are being specifically persecuted for their ethnicity, religion, or other qualities. We should assist them. OK.

How does it make sense for that assistance to be in the form of "bring them to this country, provide for their needs here, and settle them in groups, often within communities that are fairly homogenous"? They presumably don't want to come here; they want to go home, if possible. Providing for them here costs a lot more than providing for them almost anywhere else in the world. Encysting groups within not-very-compatible communities makes it hard for them to assimilate, hard to develop ties in their new home, and it's also hard on the cohesiveness host communities.

Does it not make more sense to provide safe haven, provision for their needs, and whatever else is necessary, as close to their home as is practical and safe? (Since it's cheaper, we can assist more people for the same amount.) And if it looks like they'll never be able to go back, to resettle them in places with as compatible a culture as possible, to make it easier to be at home there?

What am I missing?

Texan99 said...

I agree. Now, to the extent that we get to know them unusually well during this process and want to fast-track some of them in some way to emigrate here, I'm OK with that. In other words, I have an eye on our needs more than on theirs, though I hope to find areas of overlap.

Ymar Sakar said...

People waste so much time on Leftist propaganda. Aka fake news. No wonder America wanted someone like Trum to lead them.

Ymar Sakar said...

There are various Christian lines which have convinced Arabs and Africans to convert from Islam to Christianity.

Here's a hint, look into that and why the converts don't immediately get executed as is the custom. Americans have this habit of thinking that if it didn't come from the home land, it is inferior or not usable.