Forget the Hype: U.S.-Mexico Border Area Is One of Safest Regions in U.S.
Crime along the U.S.-Mexico border has been cited to justify everything from Arizona’s new immigration law to Congress’s decision Tuesday to spend another $600 million on border enforcement. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has referred to “mayhem” and “headless bodies” found along the border, while Sen. John McCain said that the failure to secure the border “has led to violence -- the worst I have ever seen.” And when asked why they supported Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, many Americans cited security reasons and an increase in violent crime along the U.S. border.
But a new poll says that this is a myth. There has been no increase in violent crime on the U.S. side of the border. In fact, reports show that the U.S. border is getting safer.
The poll, commissioned by the Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, Tex., and conducted by the independent polling firm The Reuel Group, Inc., found that the vast majority (more than 87 percent) of people living along the U.S. border feel safe. That's compared to 8 percent who said they didn’t feel safe, and around 5 percent who were undecided.
The poll surveyed 1,222 adults, primarily likely voters, in 10 communities along the U.S. border: Douglas, Nogales and Yuma, Ariz., El Centro and San Diego, Calif., Las Cruces, N.M. and Brownsville, El Paso, Laredo, McAllen, Tex.
The results support the latest statistics that show the U.S.-Mexico border is actually one of the safest regions in the country. An FBI report obtained by the Associated Press found that the four big U.S. cities with the lowest rates of violent crime are all along the border: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection report obtained by AP also found that being a Border Patrol agent is much less dangerous than being a street cop in most cities.
"The border is safer now than it's ever been," U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling told the Associated Press.
Yet politicians and media continue to describe the border as a zone of “war, mayhem, chaos and fear,” according to Fernando García, executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights. “This poll sets the record straight,” he says, by “challenging the false assumption that it is a violent border on the U.S. side.” García spoke on a teleconference organized to discuss the findings of the poll.
Congress decided Tuesday to send another $600 million to enhance enforcement along the border, a move that García calls “a political decision” that is not in the interest of the people who actually live there.
In Arizona, political leaders have touted the issue of security in order to push through a number of anti-illegal immigration laws. The murder of an Arizona rancher, for example, was largely credited with spurring support for SB 1070, the law that made it a state crime to be undocumented.
A week after signing SB 1070 into law in April, Gov. Brewer released a statement responding to a shooting of a Pinal County Sheriff’s deputy: “Arizona is now confronted by some of the most vicious and dangerous narco-terror organizations the world has seen,” Brewer said. “Their cause is not honest labor in desperate need of sustenance; it is murder, terror and mayhem in furtherance of a multi-billion dollar criminal enterprise.”
Although a federal judge temporarily blocked key provisions of SB 1070, the danger of border violence has been a recurring theme in speeches by Brewer and McCain – both of whom are up for election in November.
But Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., who was born and raised in southern Arizona, notes that much of the fear of border violence comes from people in the north.
“The fear that folks have around border security largely rests in the interior, from folks who live far away from the border,” says Sinema, adding that this is because they get their information from politicians and the media.
People who live along the border, Sinema says, know that “we have not seen an increase in border-related violence in the last 18 years. If anything, we’ve seen a decrease in the last 10 years.”
El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles adds that it’s actually in the interest of Mexican drug cartels to keep U.S. border cities safe. “We know most of the drugs come across our port of entry,” says Wiles. “After 9/11, the port was closed, and it impacted their profits,” he says. “So it’s in their best interest to keep the ports open.”