In June, I wrote about a Cato Institute study outlining how legal immigration into the United States is nearly impossible for the vast majority of those who want it. Now, Cato has introduced its Green Card Game, which makes this point in a different way, and enables people to interactively explore how the US immigration system works. Cato Institute immigration analyst Alex Nowrasteh explains the game and the rationale for it:
Today the Cato Institute released The Green Card Game, a free online interactive game where players attempt to go through the legal immigration system. Click on the link to play. After you click on the link, you select an avatar, enter a name, and choose your biographical information, which includes your occupation, country of birth, and other characteristics.
You can even ask the game to auto-populate a random biography. The game uses your entered information to create a passport for your character. Then you are ready to start answering questions to attempt to immigrate to the United States legally…..
The Green Card Game is an unusual product for the Cato Institute, but we decided to take a chance and make it for several reasons. First, we hypothesize that many people oppose immigration liberalization because they don’t know how complex and restrictive the immigration system is. Many years ago, I spoke to a conservative audience in Arizona about immigration. Afterward, an elderly woman asked, “I understand the benefits of immigration, but why don’t the illegals just go to the Post Office to register and become legal? What are they hiding?”
Those questions are reasonable if you know nothing about the legal immigration system. Her question was spurned by ignorance, not by malice. As a result, we’ve identified ignorance of the actual laws as a significant problem in liberalizing immigration. Just imagine how hard it would be to talk about tax policy with someone who doesn’t know that the U.S. has an income tax or even what it is. That’s about where we are in terms of the immigration debate. Our game will teach people some of the basic facts so we can then have a better discussion.
Second, gamification can enhance learning. We produce great policy research at Cato, but only some people want to read blog posts, research papers, listen to an event with experts, delve into policy podcasts, or enjoy our other scholarly content. Some people, even members of Congress, want to learn on the go, and a game like this is a great way to learn that the legal immigration system is complex and restrictive….
Alex also gives some useful suggestions on how to play:
There are several ways to play The Green Card Game. For American players, I recommend starting by playing as yourself. Create a character with your age, education level, occupation, income, savings, and family with one critical change: Choose to be from another country. Many of us won the birth lottery by being born in the United States. See if you could have come here legally if you lost that lottery, but all else remained the same.
Another way to play is to enter the name of an ancestor. Pick a relative when they immigrated to the United States and choose their level of education, occupation, and country of origin. If they’re from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, you’ve got a choice of countries. See if your ancestor could come to the United States legally today.
You could also play as a living immigrant family member or friend. Enter their biographical information best as possible and get a sense of what they went through to come here. At a minimum, it will give you a new respect for what they went through to become an American. You could even share the game with them to see if you could conjure any memories in them.
If you already have a strong opinion about immigration policy, try to create an immigrant character whom you think should be admitted or who absolutely should NOT be admitted. See if you can guide this individual through the legal immigration system. Use the result as evidence for whichever position you hold.
Relatedly, recreate the biographies of exceptional immigrant individuals like Andrew Carnegie, Katalin Karikó, Albert Einstein, Geisha Williams, John von Neumann, Qian Xuesen, Oscar de la Renta, or others to see whether they’d be able to immigrate legally. Some of them may be able to. Others wouldn’t. You could also choose the “stereotypical” immigrant from your perspective, especially an illegal immigrant, and see if that person can come legally. You’ll quickly understand why people pay smugglers to cross deserts instead of wasting their time on a legal system that often prevents them from even applying in the first place.
As noted in my post on the previous Cato study, ignorance of current law is far from the only reason for opposition to immigration. If you’re a committed restrictionist on the grounds that immigrants damage the economy, undermine political institutions, or degrade American culture, you might even come away from the game happy to know that immigration is far more difficult than you might have previously thought. Nowrasteh and and I have addressed many of these issues in various books and articles. But they can’t be resolved merely by understanding how the current immigration regime works.
But understanding the daunting nature of the legal immigration system does undercut oft-heard arguments that would-be immigrants should just “get in line” or “wait their turn.” For many, there is no line available or their “turn” will never come. The earlier Cato study and the Green Card Game also highlight the irrational and inconsistent nature of many immigration rules.