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Truth, and rhetoric, on border crime

New York Times looks at immigration and crime

"Perception often trumps reality" says an analysis of the issue of illegal immigrants and crime in the New York Times:

It is a connection that those who support stronger enforcement of immigration laws and tighter borders often make: rising crime at the border necessitates tougher enforcement.

But the rate of violent crime at the border, and indeed across Arizona, has been declining, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as has illegal immigration, according to the Border Patrol. While thousands have been killed in Mexico’s drug wars, raising anxiety that the violence will spread to the United States, F.B.I. statistics show that Arizona is relatively safe.

We see what we want to see, and ignore information that doesn't fit our preconceived notions, says a UA researcher:

Judith Gans, who studies immigration at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona, said that what social psychologists call self-serving perception bias seemed to be at play. Both sides in the immigration debate accept information that confirms their biases, she said, and discard, ignore or rationalize information that does not. There is no better example than the role of crime in Arizona’s tumultuous immigration debate.

So what is the truth? Violent crime is down, while property crime data is mixed - up in general, but perhaps falling in Arizona's cities.

While Arizona's population continued to grow, violent crime fell from 532 incidents per 100,000 people in 2000 to 447 in 2008. The national rate also declined, from 507 in 2000 to 455 per 100,000 in 2008.

Property crime increased in Arizona: growing to 4,082 per 100,000 in 2008 from 3,682 in 2000. The Times says early 2009 data shows that property crime rates in the state's largest cities may be falling.

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So why all the rhetoric? It's an election year, of course, and "tough on crime" is always a popular stance.

Whether it's U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords responding to the slaying of rancher Robert Krentz with a call for more National Guardsmen on the border, or Gov. Jan Brewer appeasing a conservative base (irked by her support for a one-cent sales tax increase) by signing SB 1070, the nexus of immigration and crime remains a potent issue.

What's your take?

How worried are you about crime related to the border? Do you think illegal immigrants increase the crime rate? What's your solution to the border situation?

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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A Bureau of Land Management sign warns of armed smugglers on Arizona public lands.

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New York Times: On Border Violence, Truth Pales Compared to Ideas