Over the past couple of years, lawmakers have repeatedly pointed to the alarming levels of drug-related violence that is unraveling on the Mexican side of the southern border in a way that suggests that the horrific crimes are spilling over into the U.S. This deceptive line of reasoning has most often been used either to argue against comprehensive immigration reform or support harsh immigration measures such as SB-1070, the law that was recently passed by Arizona. Earlier this week, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano called on politicians to stop exaggerating the levels of violence occurring on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico:
The verdict is that our approach is working. We have strengthened the southwest border in ways that many people did not think possible. And our partnership with Mexico along the border is very strong.
It is inaccurate to state — as too many have — that the United States’ side of the border is overrun with violence or out of control. This statement often made to score cheap political points is just plain wrong.
Shortly thereafter, a coalition of border city mayors chimed in to denounce a recent op-ed written by former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AK) which claimed that Al Qaeda openly boasts of using drug tunnels to smuggle weapons of mass destruction through our porous defenses.” Although Huckabee conceded that “[f]ortunately, those boasts have proven empty — at least so far” he still concluded that DHS has “failed miserably” to secure the border. The U.S. Mexico Border Mayors Association echoed Napolitano’s remarks in their response. Politico reports:
In a letter obtained by POLITICO, the mayors from cities in Arizona, Texas and California — saying they represent 7 million people — responded sharply to a recent op-ed Huckabee wrote in the New York Post. [...]
“(C)laims that our border cities are out of control are just not true,” reads the letter from eight mayors addressed to Huckabee and the Post. “Not only do these claims fly in the face of statistical evidence, but they also disparage the tremendous efforts that our law enforcement agencies have made to protect this border and the people who live in border communities.”
They added, “We can tell you first hand that the Southwest Border Initiative is certainly working. We have seen unprecedented investment in terms of manpower, resources, and technology that has resulted in a more secure border. We have implemented a successful strategy which includes greater collaboration with federal, state, local and tribal, and Mexican partners while facilitating legal trade and travel.”
The mayors also added that they “constantly have to correct the false perceptions that our cities are not a safe place to live, work and play.” In fact, according to FBI statistics, they are amongst the safest. The top four big cities in America with the lowest rates of violent crime are San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin — all of which happen to be pretty close to the U.S. – Mexico border. Counties along the southwest border have some of the lowest rates of violent crime per capita in the nation and those rates have dropped by more than 30 percent since the 1990s while immigration has soared.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t appear the public officials Napolitano and the border city mayors were referring to are paying much attention to the data. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu — an ardent SB-1070 supporter — accused Napolitano of downplaying border-related violence and of being “divorced from reality.” He also announced that he expects armed conflict with the Mexican drug cartels soon. Meanwhile, a recent report by the Government Accountability Office suggests that it’s the northern border that actually poses a much larger terror risk.