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In Arizona, It’s Politics, Not Crime, Driving Border Insecurity

May 05, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Border patrol trucks

In signing Arizona's new "Papers Please" law, Governor Jan Brewer gave her reasons.

Border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration are critically important issues to the people of our state….  There is no higher priority than protecting the citizens of Arizona.

As we noted last week, however, it appears that the law was more about politics and discomfort with demographic change than about protecting the citizens of Arizona.  Property and violent crime rates in Arizona are lower than they've been in decades. 

CNN last week also noted declining crime in Arizona.

"…violent crimes reported in Arizona dropped by nearly 1,500 reported incidents between 2005 and 2008. Reported property crimes also fell, from about 287,000 reported incidents to 279,000 in the same period. These decreases are accentuated by the fact that Arizona's population grew by 600,000 between 2005 and 2008."

CNN also checked out illegal border crossing trends.  In the Tucson Border Patrol sector, apprehensions of persons crossing illegally have fallen from 600,000 in 2000 to 241,000 in 2009.

The May 2nd Arizona Republic took a look at crime in some of Arizona's border communities.  Assistant Police Chief Roy Bermudez, of Nogales, Arizona, told the paper that he thinks "Nogales, Arizona, is one of the safest places to live in all of America."  The Republic didn't take his word for it.  They examined FBI statistics for border communities.

"In 2000, there were 23 rapes, robberies and murders in Nogales, Ariz. Last year, despite nearly a decade of population growth, there were 19 such crimes. Aggravated assaults dropped by one-third. No one has been murdered in two years."

The Republic looked at statistics in other border towns.

"…crime rates in Nogales, Douglas, Yuma and other Arizona border towns have remained essentially flat for the past decade, even as drug-related violence has spiraled out of control on the other side of the international line."

The Republic writes “politicians and the national press have fanned a perception that the border is inundated with bloodshed,” perception that helped push Arizona’s “Papers Please” legislation into law.  The perception of law enforcement officers on the border, however, is very different. 

Here is the perception of Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima County (which includes Tucson).

"This is a media-created event.  I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse. Well, the fact of the matter is that the border has never been more secure."

According to the Border Patrol, slain rancher Robert Krentz, whose death led to the latest round off politician demands to “secure the border,”

“…is the only American murdered by a suspected illegal immigrant in at least a decade within the agency's Tucson sector, the busiest smuggling route among the Border Patrol's nine coverage regions along the U.S.-Mexican border.”

Though politicians and the press were quick to spread the rumor that Krentz was killed by an “illegal alien,” according to the Arizona Daily Star police are looking at an American suspect.

Over the last 20 years, the border region has been flooded with law enforcement resources—the subject of this new Fact Sheet from the National Immigration Forum.  As Assistant Chief Bermudez of Nogales noted,

"Everywhere you turn, there's some kind of law enforcement looking at you.  Per capita, we probably have the highest amount of any city in the United States.”

Politicians calling for more border security are doing so more to further their own political carriers than out of concern for public safety.  They appeal to voters not in border communities who can witness the reality, but to others whose perception is shaped by the hysteria the politicians themselves are generating (and unthinkingly fanned by the press).  They are not doing border communities any favors.  The conclusion of the Republic’s story sums up the situation well:

Leo Federico, 61, a retired teacher, said he has been amazed to hear members of Congress call for National Guard troops in the area.

"That's politics," he said, shrugging. "It's all about votes. . . . We have plenty of law enforcement."

Photo by Flickr user Threaded Thoughts.

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