Photo credit: Peabody Awards via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Anthony Bourdain Had It Right on Immigration


Last week’s sudden passing of television personality Anthony Bourdain led to an outpouring of grief from viewers and celebrities alike. As many of the tributes to Bourdain have noted, he was a larger-than-life figure who will be fondly remembered for his cooking, world traveling, intellectual curiosity, and being the original “influencer.” And as we reflect on Bourdain’s innate ability to bring people and cultures together, it is my hope that we will honor his life’s legacy through the immigration debate.

Anthony Bourdain never pulled any punches when discussing his views on immigration.

During an interview in 2014, Bourdain stated, “Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are stealing American jobs, but in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had one American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position or even a job as prep cook.”

In 2016, Bourdain slammed President Trump’s immigration platform stating, “If Mr. Trump deports 11 million people or whatever he’s talking about right now, every restaurant in America would shut down.”

While Bourdain was likely exaggerating for argument’s sake, he understood far better than most how immigration benefits an economy. Estimates show that roughly 20 percent of all cooks in America are undocumented immigrants. To deport them, along with other restaurant workers including dishwashers and busboys, would lead to absolute carnage in the restaurant industry.

Bourdain’s observation about immigrants taking jobs many Americans won’t do rings true as well. As The Washington Post has pointed out, “immigrants tend to do a different kind of labor, one which might not even exist in their absence. [Immigration opponents] say ‘we Americans could do the job!’ but they don’t say ‘we’ll do the job at a significantly higher price at which the job wouldn’t exist.'” The Manhattan Insitute’s Diana Furchtgott-Roth has also eviscerated the argument that immigrants taking these jobs results in wage depression.

But perhaps the most important takeaway from Bourdain’s immigration remarks is what they reveal about the motivations behind immigration in the first place.

For immigration opponents, a perception exists that the U.S. is somehow a magnet for immigration because of our generous social safety net — despite the fact that “[m]ost legal immigrants do not have access to means-tested welfare for their first five years here with few exceptions and unauthorized immigrants don’t have access at all — except for emergency Medicaid” [emphasis added], and “[i]mmigrants are less likely to use means-tested welfare benefits than similar native-born Americans.” Nevertheless, opponents continue to stubbornly insist immigrants are coming here to enjoy a free ride on the government’s dole. Even if that were the case (though it is blindingly obvious it isn’t), shouldn’t the blame be with the expansive entitlement policies rather than immigrants?

Finally, the fretting over perceived benefits illegal immigrants receive becomes truly ridiculous when factoring in the overall impact immigrants have on the economy. One University of Washington study found that immigrants contribute “$3.7 trillion to housing markets nationwide.” Another study found that immigrants added “$2 trillion” to GDP in 2016, which is astounding considering that same year the U.S. spent roughly $1.9 trillion on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid combined. That’s not how much we spent on just immigrants — that’s how much we spent on the entire programs.

While these figures would surprise many, the benefits of immigration (both economic and cultural) were always clear to Anthony Bourdain. Let’s honor his legacy by making America more open to immigration and by taking the first step towards doing so by allowing the Dreamers to stay.

Photo credit: Peabody Awards via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Jonathan Decker

Jonathan Decker is the Chief Economic Correspondent for

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