Poster Paper: The Effect of E-Verify on Crime

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Brandyn Churchill, Vanderbilt University, Andrew Dickinson, San Diego State University, Taylor Mackay, University of California, Irvine and Joseph Sabia, University of New Hampshire

Despite a paucity of evidence that immigration causes crime (Orrenius and Zavodny 2019), nearly half of Americans blame immigrants for increases in crime (Gallup 2017). Public support for enhanced border security is strong and policies that target undocumented immigrants working or living in the U.S. have blossomed.

The most widespread interior enforcement policy in the U.S. is E-Verify, adopted by 23 states. Under this policy, employers are required to digitally verify the employment eligibility status of newly hired employees, comparing information on their Employment Eligibility Verification (I-9) form with electronic records from the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. A mismatch will prompt an alert to the employer that must be resolved by the employee within 10 Federal work days or employees will face termination. Failure to comply with state E-Verify laws can result in substantial fines for employers as well as license revocation.

The effect of E-Verify on crime is ambiguous. E-verify may increase the likelihood that undocumented immigrants are detected, resulting in an increase in immigration-related arrests. In addition, if E-Verify reduces employment opportunities for undocumented immigrants (Orrenius and Zavodny 2015), this may lead to an increase in property or drug crimes for income-generating purposes. Moreover, if E-Verify induces outmigration of likely undocumented immigrants (Good 2013) and an inflow of low-skilled natives, crime may rise in E-Verify jurisdictions due to compositional shifts toward those with higher propensities for crime (MacDonald et al. 2012).

On the other hand, if E-Verify increases employment of low-skilled natives because low-skilled natives and immigrants are substitutes (Amuedo-Dorantes and Bansak 2014) — or if E-Verify increases native workers’ wages by reducing the supply of available substitutes — then crime committed by natives may fall. E-Verify may also reduce arrests if young Hispanics leave a state in response to fewer job opportunities. To date, only a handful of studies have examined the impact of E-Verify on crime, with each focusing on a particular case study of a particular state policy and finding mixed results (Chalfin and Deza 2018; Zhang et al. 2016; Freedman et al. 2018).

Using data from the National Incident Based Reporting System from 2004 to 2015, and a difference-in-differences approach, this study comprehensively examines the impact of state E-Verify programs on crime. We find consistent evidence that enactment of E-Verify is associated with a 7 to 10 percent decline in property crime incidents involving a working age Hispanic arrestee. This finding is concentrated among males, those ages 20-to-44, and for E-Verify mandates that extend to private employers. Event study analyses are consistent with a causal interpretation. Finally, our analysis of Current Population Survey data suggests that our results may be explained by (i) increased employment opportunities for some Hispanic natives, and (ii) outmigration of younger Hispanic immigrants. Finally, data from the Uniform Crime Reports show no evidence that E-Verify affected criminal arrests involving white or African American adults, consistent with small labor market effects. We estimate that E-Verify generates social benefits of crime reduction of approximately $490 million.