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Opinion: Setting the record straight on border crime

Border states are safe today and only getting safer

Officeholders and candidates in Arizona who support the state's draconian new immigration law have justified it with hyperbole, exaggeration, and falsehoods about Arizona's crime rate. Gov. Jan Brewer has colored recent speeches with images of "murder, terror, and mayhem" and "drop houses, kidnappings, and violence," which are all supposedly common in the lives of the terrified Arizona populace. According to State Sen. Russell Pearce, who sponsored the law—it mandates that police interrogate people they have "reasonable suspicion" are illegal immigrants and demand production of documentation—cities like Phoenix will become places with "less crime" and "safer neighborhoods." Pearce claims Phoenix is "second in the world in kidnappings and third in the United States for violence."

With all the hype around a purported crime epidemic caused by undocumented immigrants, it's ironic that newly released statistics from Arizona's Department of Public Safety and the FBI show that violent crime rates in the state and along the southwest border region have been declining. In fact, it's fair to say the border region has become safer over the last few years, and that Arizona's new law actually undermines community safety.

Let's take a closer look.

The facts on crime in Arizona

Violent crimes in Arizona are down by 15 percent since 2006: The FBI's preliminary Uniform Crime Report, or UCR, for 2009 shows that violent crime—murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault—is down in Arizona for the third year in a row. The absolute number of violent crimes in 2006 was 30,916 in Arizona. By 2009 it had dropped by 15 percent to 26,094.

Per-capita violent crime rate dropped by 22 percent: Factoring in the change in Arizona's population, the rate of violent crime per 100,000 persons in 2009 was 390.5, which is a 22 percent decrease from 501.4 per 100,000 in 2006. For comparison's sake, the violent crime rate in nonborder states such as Georgia and Florida was 410.6 and 604.9 respectively in 2009.

Arizona's violent and property crime rate drop was twice the national average: Nationally, violent and property crimes were down between 2008 and 2009, but Arizona saw rates of decline more than double that. The nation as a whole saw a -5.5 percent change in violent crime and -4.9 percent change in property crime from 2008 to 2009, but Arizona experienced a percent change of -11.1 in the former and -12 in the latter in this same time period.

Kidnappings are tied to Mexico's organized crime syndicate, not innocent Americans: It's clear that Arizona has an organized crime problem, with 267 kidnappings in 2009 in Phoenix alone. But the kidnappings most often occur when human smugglers—who are usually part of Mexican drug cartels—demand more money for their services. As Phoenix police Sgt. Tommy Thompson said, "We're talking about the kidnapping of smugglers and associates. I have no fear that my kids or grandkids will be victims." This means that our efforts must be directed toward two fronts: fixing our broken immigration system so that people can immigrate legally with visas and not illegally with smugglers, and helping to resolve the deadly war on drugs in Mexico.

A safer southwest border

Border cities are among the nation's safest: Phoenix and other large border (and near-border) cities have some of the nation's lowest crime rates, including San Diego, El Paso, and Austin.

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Border counties have low violent crime rates: Counties along the southwest border have some of the lowest rates of violent crime per capita in the nation. Their rates have dropped by more than 30 percent since the 1990s.

There's no evidence of "spillover" of violence from Mexico: El Paso, Texas has three bridges leading directly into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where the number of killings has approached 23,000 since 2006. El Paso experienced only 12 murders in 2009, which was actually down from 17 in 2008. San Diego, California saw 41 murders in 2009, down from 55 in 2008, and Tucson, Arizona experienced 35 in 2009, a significant decrease from the 65 murders committed in 2008. Claims of spillover violence are clearly overblown.

High-immigrant cities are safer: Christopher Dickey, Paris bureau chief and Middle East regional editor for Newsweek, points out that, "San Antonio saw violent crime drop from 9,699 incidents to 7,844; murders from 116 to 99. Compare that with a city like Detroit, which is a little bigger than El Paso and much smaller than San Antonio—and not exactly a magnet for job-seeking immigrants. Its murder rate went up from 323 in 2008 to 361 in 2009." This recent pattern falls right in line with the calculations of Tim Wadsworth, sociologist from the University of Colorado at Boulder. In Wadsworth's recent study he concludes that "cities with the largest increases in immigration between 1990 and 2000 experienced the largest decreases in homicide and robbery during the same time period."

Arizona law undermines community safety

Civilian cooperation will decrease: A delegation of police chiefs from major cities in Arizona and across the country met on May 26 with Attorney General Eric Holder to make clear they opposed the Arizona law because it would hurt local law enforcement efforts. As Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said following the meeting, "This is not a law that increases public safety. This is a bill that makes it much harder for us to do our jobs...crime will go up if this becomes law in Arizona or in any other state." That's because police need full cooperation from residents—legal and otherwise—in order to solve and prevent crime.

Immigrant communities will be marginalized: Arizona's new law will "drive a wedge between some communities and law enforcement" instead of reducing crime, argues Rob Davis, police chief of San Jose, California. It will erode the mutual trust and cooperation that police have worked to develop and maintain with immigrant communities throughout the years and instead alienate these communities.

Resources will be diverted from fighting serious crime: Police resources in Arizona will be taken away from serious crime investigations and redirected to questioning the legal status of otherwise lawful individuals. That's why the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police opposes S.B. 1070. "We are stretched very thin right now. We don't have enough resources to continue to do this and to take on another responsibility," said Josh Harris, head of the association.

This article was published by the Center for American Progress.

Ann Garcia is Special Assistant for Immigration Policy at the Center for American Progress.

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3 comments on this story

Jun 21, 2010, 5:52 pm
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I feel for all the families of the victims of Americas way of making gangs and mafias. Please Join NORML get educated vote yes on prop 203 for medical marijuana and lets get our government whipped back into shape with a self funding initiative and get finances back in the hands of our government. By paying sales tax on marijuana and eliminating gangs biggest money source and move it into the hands of good honest people with a business license. Together we can stop violence from prohibition and create enough money to fund our borders safety. PLEASE BELIEVE ME. CANNABIS WILL SAVE THE WORLD IF OUR GOVERNMENT WOULD STOP PROHIBITION!!

Jun 21, 2010, 7:42 am
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Ok look at this way,
Clean up the drug use in America make it legal
or lock up drug users.Just look at the meth use in the suburbs.
As for communists twist wow the cry of Beck and Tea party.
If the feds had a better program for people who would like to come to the USA like open borders, one would have to check in with the BP to be checked for pass crimes it would stop a lot of heart ache for people.
We in America offer some other nations don’t
FREEDOM are you willing to give up any part of that to blame others for you fears?
So we must stop the drug use or make it legal…

Jun 20, 2010, 1:53 pm
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Yeah, right. Now go explain that to Mrs. Krentz and to Deputy and Mrs. Puroll. And to the people living on the border whose homes were broken into 14 times in the last year by armed illegals. And to the people who were duct taped when illegals broke into their homes and robbed them at machete point earlier this year. And to the Mexican border ranchers who were killed for control of their ranches, and to the Mexican border rancher who was tortured, killed and dumped in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and to the Mexican ranch foremen who are presently in the custody of kidnappers.And to remote AZ border ranchers who feel they need to be armed at all times even inside their own homes, even in the bathroom. And to the Border agents and deputies who have been shot at, and their widows.

I personally was a first responder to a mass murder committed by illegal aliens on illegal aliens, and out in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone coverage. Gee, that was fun-NOT. Has the author ever dealt with anything like that?

Did the author mention that just a couple of years ago the Border Patrol reported that 1 out of ten illegals they detain already had violent criminal records, and that today that number has risen to one out of five?

If our border is so much safer now than 2006, then tell us how many American citizens were murdered in cold blood by illegal immigrants in 2006 minding their own business on their own property versus 2010. How many law enforcement officers were murdered by illegal immigrants versus today? How many kidnappings were there in Phoenix then versus today, and why are there currently about 95 convicted murderers in the Phoenix jail who are illegal aliens? Why did the author fail to mention that Phoenix is the kidnapping capital of the USA?

Anyone can spin any story using statistics, statistics and da***d lies.  Did the author compare trends in the violent crime rates in AZ against the drop in numbers of illegals trying to cross since 2006 due to the economic conditions? Why let inconvenient facts get in the way of her own political rhetoric and that of the ever-politically correct Janet Napolitano?

Why must liberals always lump “immigrants” together without separating illegal immigrants from legal immigrants? Because the facts would be too clear that way?  Why can’t the author recognize that Mohammed Atta might be a less desirable example of “immigrant” than Albert Einstein? What an insult she has dealt to Dr. Einstein and every other person who has immigrated to this country by respecting and following our laws.

Do we really need the Chief of the San Jose Police telling Arizona how to govern itself?  Who elected him to any Arizona office? Is San Jose suddenly located on the border? What makes him the expert? Do Arizonans have some reason to want his opinion? Did we ask for it???? For that matter, did we ask for the author’s opinion obviously sent to us by electronic submission straight from anywhere BUT Arizona??? Has the author spent any time at all in the remote regions of Arizona’s border?  Why doesn’t she come park her RV down here and spend the night in ANY wilderness area on our Mexican border if she insists it is so safe? After all, real people DO live here, but maybe they don’t agree with her politically motivated rhetoric because they LIVE the facts, and she might feel uncomfortable around people who arent’ afraid of speaking the truth.

The “Center for American Progress” states in their own website,
“The Center for American Progress is dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through progressive ideas and action.”  The word “progressive” is just a code-speak word that actually translates directly to “communist.” The two words are fully interchangeable. But it’s politically incorrect to use the “c” word because the commies so love to mislead.

Speaking of Communist, I find it highly interesting that Hillary Clinton chose to announce on her visit to Ecuador that the Dept. of Justice intends to sue Arizona over our law.  Ecuador has an open border with Communist China allowing any Chinese person to visit Ecuador without a visa. The purpose is apparently to facilitate illegal immigration to the US from China through Ecuador.

Who’s looking out for Arizonans? Certainly not the federal government Or their lofty smarter than anyone cronies hiding behind computers in wealthy tax-exempt NGOs.

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