Illegal immigrants who can’t work are more likely to commit crimes in order to support themselves, according to a superb new paper by Matthew Freedman, Emily Owens, and Sarah Bohn that is forthcoming in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. They examined administrative data from Bexar County, Texas and found an increase in felony charges filed against residents who were most likely to be illegal immigrants after the Immigration Reform and Control Act made it unlawful for illegal immigrants to work in the United States.
Their finding is especially relevant for the current debate over E-Verify, an electronic eligibility for employment verification system that is supposed to exclude illegal immigrants from the workforce. The goal of E-Verify is to turn off the wage magnet that attracts illegal immigrants to the United States and open up jobs for American workers. Although E-Verify fails to lower unemployment and only has a very small effect on dimming the wage magnet, the paper by Freedman et al. points to another possible unintended consequence of mandating E-Verify: higher crime.
Arizona provides a wonderful opportunity to test whether an E-Verify mandate affected crime. In March 2007, the Arizona House passed the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA). The state Senate passed it in May and governor Napolitano signed it in July. Among other things, LAWA mandated E-Verify for all new employees beginning on January 1, 2008.