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Dispelling the Border Myth

We are accustomed to picturing the U.S.-Mexican border as a place rife with murder, arson, theft, kidnapping, and every other violent crime imaginable. The problem is that we also tend to unfairly paint immigrants as the perpetrators of all of this when in reality the violence is associated with drugs and arms trafficking, not immigration. This image of a violence-ridden, out-of-control border has been used to justify increasingly higher spending on enforcement along the border, increases in Border Patrol agents and the deployment of the National Guard. Immigration restrictionists have also used images of the border violence and immigrants committing crimes to shut down attempts at serious comprehensive immigration reform. Yet, despite what it may seem, as residents who live along the U.S. side of the border have known for years, the border is actually a very safe place, and reports of “spillover” violence from Mexico are largely unfounded. Data recently collected by USA Today will confirm the fact that U.S. border cities have not been struggling with the violence and crime associated with drug and arms trafficking in Mexico. In fact, border cities are statistically safer than other similarly-sized cities in the border states.

Using data from city and county police agencies along with information from the FBI, USA Today found that from 1998 to 2009, the murder rate for cities within 50 miles form the border was lower than the respective state average. In addition, theft rates were also found to be lower than the state average, and FBI reports indicated that kidnapping cases are declining. In fact, El Paso, Texas, which is located right across the border from the notoriously dangerous Ciudad Juarez, was named the safest city in the U.S. in 2010, and has consistently been in the top three since 1997. Yet, in spite of all this evidence, Congress and the presidential administration remain intent on maintaining the violent border imagery and putting money and personnel along the border. In 2010, for example, President Obama authorized the deployment of 1,200 more National Guard troops to enhance border security and requested an additional $500 million from Congress to further modernize the border security. Congress also approved $600 million in the “Border Security Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010.”

According to experts with matters regarding the U.S.- Mexico border, David Shirk and Eric Olson, the U.S. is putting its enforcement resources in the wrong place. Rather than focusing on illegal immigration, more enforcement dollars should be redeployed to “intelligence-based law-enforcement efforts” to focus on cartels and disrupt the flow of guns, drugs, and money. These experts also suggest that Congress bring “immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding out of the shadows and provide them with legal avenues to enter the country.” They continue by saying, “widening the gates-with more elastic quotas for work visas (especially for our Mexican and Central American neighbors)- would allow U.S. Border Patrol agents to turn their fullest attention to organized criminal groups and would-be terrorists without the distraction of hunting down would-be gardeners and dish-washers.

Evidently, there is a great deal of data dispelling the myth of an out-of-control border and immigrants committing crimes. Border experts continue to advocate focusing border enforcement resources on drug trafficking, arms trafficking, and money laundering. The question is, when will Congress get over its fixation on deporting immigrants and begin a constructive debate over fixing our broken immigration system and addressing real problems along the border?

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