Reason Roundup

Mississippi ICE Raids Highlight Glaring Weakness With E-Verify, Immigration Restrictionists' Favorite Big Government Program

Plus: Federal government looks to expand marijuana research, America's housing boom is not helping more people afford new homes, and more...


Last week's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids at food processing plants in Mississippi highlight a major failing of the federal government's database program that's meant to stop illegal immigrants from being hired.

That program, known as E-Verify, requires that employers run prospective employees' personal information through databases maintained by the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security prior to hiring. In theory, a worker is allowed to take a job only after the database check verified his or her immigration status. The Center for Immigration Studies, a group that favors limiting immigration, has called the E-Verify system a "useful, massive data-base…to keep illegal aliens from being hired" and has criticized President Donald Trump for not doing more to expand the program's use.

Mississippi was one of the first states to adopt the E-Verify program in 2011, and all employers in Mississippi are required to use it. But if E-Verify lived up to the hype, it should have made last week's ICE raids in Mississippi an exercise in futility—rather than one of the largest immigration enforcement actions in recent history.

That's pretty good evidence that E-Verify doesn't work, writes Alex Nowrasteh, the director of immigration studies at the Cato Institute. Part of the problem is that illegal immigrant workers can pass off someone else's documentation as their own, and there's no way for the program to detect or prevent that low-level (and often voluntary) identify theft. Another problem is that employers are often in on the scam. Mississippi's E-Verify compliance rates are among the lowest in the country.

That seems to be what happened at the Koch Foods plants in Mississippi. In a statement, the company said it uses the E-Verify system to check employees' immigration status, but warrants obtained before the raids allege that the company "willfully and unlawfully" employed people who lacked the authorization to work in the United States.

"The cynical public choice-influenced economist in me thinks that E-Verify is popular among immigration restrictionist politicians because it doesn't work but it makes the politician look like a tough enforcer," Nowrasteh writes. "Thus, many will get the political benefits of being an immigration restrictionist without forcing their districts to pay a heavy economic cost."

But like any good, obvious government failure, last week's raids will likely produce calls for the E-Verify program to be used more, rather than scrapped. That has implications even for people who aren't illegal immigrants. Anti-immigrant politics and the government programs born of them are inevitably turned against law-abiding American citizens too—as border "checkpoints" that are nowhere near the border and the years-long detentions of American citizens by immigration cops attest.


Smoke pot for research. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has announced plans to expand its marijuana research objectives beyond the health effects of smoking pot. In a notice published Wednesday, the federal agency says it is seeking funding for research into topics like the "initiation and continued use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes" and "how cannabis industry practices, including research on marketing, taxes, and prices, impact use and health outcomes."

Marijuana Moment, a publication that tracks weed-related news, says the announcement is "one of the latest signs that the federal government is recognizing the reality of the marijuana legalization movement's continued success."

Expanding research into marijuana's uses is good. Even better would be for the Drug Enforcement Administration to stop blocking efforts to grow pot for research purposes.


America is in the middle of another housing boom, but the supply of housing has actually become less elastic in recent years, notes Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution.

What's that mean? Since the housing market bottomed out in 2012, house prices "have risen a little bit faster in this boom than in the 1996-2006 boom and they have risen much faster relative to income," Tabarrok writes. But the number of new houses being built has not risen as rapidly—which means it's not getting easier for people to afford new homes, even in the midst of a supposed "boom."

"Housing supply remains especially constrained in the coastal cities by regulation and limited land capacity and those constraints are becoming more binding over time," he concludes.