Are the Safest U.S. Cities Along the Mexico Border?

Anti-immigrant forces have adeptly shaped the ongoing immigration debate into an issue of crime and punishment. Now, the pending passage of a $600 million border security bill could breathe new life into the narrative of the criminal immigrant — despite the increasing safety of our border communities.

The sentiment is familiar, if false: Crime in Mexico fuels migration, which breeds violence on the border, which must then be combated within our cities. The undocumented must be punished for stealing our jobs, stealing our services and ruining our neighborhoods. In Arizona, lawmakers like state senator Russell Pearce (who claims that his ring finger was shot off by a Latino gang member) used just that rhetoric to justify the passage of SB 1070 and other anti-immigrant laws.

The reality is far different. Not only do Mexicans and immigrants experience the worst of drug-related border violence, immigration enforcement programs have shifted their resources from combating trafficking to deporting non-criminal immigrants.

Securing the border against non-criminals

At ColorLines, Julianne Hing reports that a border security bill passed by the Senate last Friday would provide $600 million in funding for unmanned aerial drones, communications equipment and 1,500 new enforcement agents on the U.S. – Mexico border. The sum is in addition to $701 million recently approved by the House for similar militarization efforts at the border.

The Obama administration quickly affirmed its support of the bill, which was re-introduced in the House and goes before the Senate for another vote today. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano reiterated the president’s assurances that the new resources would primarily target “transnational criminal organizations” in an effort to reduce “the illicit trafficking of people, drugs, currency and weapons.”

Experts argue that this renewed emphasis on border security may encourage Republicans to cooperate in passing comprehensive immigration reform — a suggestion that some lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), have been quick to endorse.

The government’s demonstrated border policing priorities don’t gel with the administration’s assurances that increases in border security will solely focus on organizing crime and trafficking. As the Immigration Policy Institute points out, federal prosecutions of smugglers and drug traffickers have gone down significantly as resources have shifted to the prosecution of non-criminal immigrants crossing the border illegally.

Policing the innocent instead of the criminal

As Elise Foley reports at the Washington Independent, newly released records show that a significant portion of those deported through the Secure Communities program — which requires local law enforcement to share fingerprints with federal authorities — had no criminal records.

That number constitutes one-fourth of deportees nationally, but the proportions are much higher county-to-county. In Maricopa county, Arizona — the home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio — 54 percent of deportees were non-criminals, while in Travis county, Texas, the figure was 80 percent.

Immigration advocacy groups argue that the new data defies DHS’s stated commitment to prioritizing dangerous illegal immigrants over non-criminals. “ICE has blatantly misrepresented the program by saying it focuses on high-risk illegal immigrants,” Sarahi Uribe, an organizer with National Day Laborer’s Organizers Network, told Foley.

Given ICE’s admitted lack of resources and the inhumane conditions documented in many detention centers, prioritization of non-criminal immigrants is a troubling reminder that the anti-crime rhetoric of the anti-immigrant Right is nothing more than a ruse.

U.S. border communities are safer than ever

Yet, despite the ugly picture painted by mass deportations and massively-funded border security bills, communities along the U.S. – Mexico border are actually quite safe.

As Elena Shore reports at New America Media, a new poll commissioned by the Border Network for Human Rights found that 87 percent of people living in 10 different U.S. border towns feel safe in their communities — a finding supported by other statistics:

An FBI report obtained by the Associated Press found that the four big U.S. cities with the lowest rates of violent crime are all along the border: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin. A U.S. Customs and Border Protection report obtained by AP also found that being a Border Patrol agent is much less dangerous than being a street cop in most cities.

No asylum for Mexicans fleeing cartel violence

The relative safety of U.S. border communities stands in stark contrast, however, to that of their Mexican neighbors. While Americans live comfortably on the north side of the border, places like Ciudad Juarez (El Paso’s seedy sister city) are wracked by cartel violence.

At the Texas Observer, Susana Hayward examines the strained relationship between the two cities: one threatened by escalating drug violence, the other a gateway to largest drug market in the world. Chronicling the stories of Mexicans affected by the drug war, Hayward reminds us that while the U.S. repeatedly reaffirms its commitment to combating drug trafficking and to keeping the border safe, it offers no recourse to the scores of Mexicans who seek refuge from the violence.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint.

photo credit: thanks to `David via flickr for the shot of the Mexico/San Diego border
by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger


LMj Sunshine

Thank you.

LMj Sunshine

Thank you.

Zoraida Colon-collado
Zoraida colon7 years ago

My final point here, and I will leave this one alone, for those of you who point to my Spanish surname and believe I am standing up for these people for that reason, think again. I am a history buff and have read the long, tragic track record of our supposed, "melting pot" of a nation. From the near extermination of our Native Americans, the cruelty of enslavement and subsequent brutality against the African Americans, the hostility and slurs against the starving Irish, Polish and Italians who saved every penny they had to get here only to find people who shunned them, attacked and refused to hire them or even rent them a room, we as a country share a shameful past in our treatment of newcomers. There are still Asians in our midst who remember the interment camps of WWII and we still ask if people associated with Nazis on our Naturalization form, and this in a nation whose Caucasion population is mainly of German descent. Don't you think these people would gladly come here legally if they could? Don't you understand it kills them to leave all their family back at home, not knowing what will happen while they are gone? Don't you think knowing you may be beaten, raped, lost in the desert to die alone would keep you home if you had any other recourse? Are we doomed to repeat our horrible past over and over again, never learning from our mistakes? No, I agree, open immigration is not sustainable. But abject cruelty is not the answer either. Stop the hysteria and help.

Zoraida Colon-collado
Zoraida colon7 years ago

MJG - You missed my point ENTIRELY. I have read and re-read my statements and at no point did I say, "Let them all in." or any such hysteria producing nonsense. Nor did I negate, (or even mention), the claims of increased maintenance in border towns since, as you so aptly put it, I don't live there. But since you have set yourself up as the expert in this field, I challege you to dig up the undisputable facts of your claims. Show us where the budgets of the border towns have been "bankrupted" by this influx of unwanted traffic, compared to say, ten years ago. It also intrigues me that they are still living there, which says they must be making some type of income, no? Who is hiring them, in other words, it must be AMERICAN businesses paying them, or they would not stay in such a hostile environment.And while we're on budgets, find our how much money is generated in these poor invaded towns by hiring and selling goods to, all these illegals. Believe me, MJG, this would not be happening if SOMEONE wasn't raking in a tidy profit on those "wet backs". MONEY moves American politics and MONEY keeps the illegals here. Simple as that. Find out who is profiting, print our their names and addresses, and you can stem the tide of immigrants very quickly, by putting their employers out of business. If no one pays them, they won't come. How simple is that? And THAT really IS my argument with the "laws" you seem so fond of. They are hypocritical, unsustainable and parasitic!

Juan Pablo de la Torre

Xenophobia is only a manifestation of ignorance.

M J G.
Rose McB7 years ago


Thanks for your service to our country. We appreciate it greatly!


Your response to my and Judith's posts are typical of what we see very often on these boards. People who live elsewhere and do not deal with the problems daily. Judith's term "sanctimonius" is apt. The opposing argument is always "racism", "bigotry" or "hate mongering" and the ad hominem attacks soon follow, as we see in your post.

The bleeding heart proponents of "let them all in no matter what" always, ALWAYS mount the racism/hate defense and NEVER EVER deal specifically with the debate, point by point.

The facts are: this is a country of laws. Illegal entry into this country is just that - illegal. Illegal immigrants, particularly in the Southwest, are literally breaking the back of border state budgets. The body traffic across our southern border makes it doubly difficult for border agents to isolate/identify cartel mules and pistoleros, as they hide within these populations. Illegals traveling through local communities create millions of dollars in damage due to theft, vandalism, and littering. When I say littering, I mean MILLIONS of dollars every year off our state budget to clean up TONS of trash they leave behind at their campsites, to blow all over our once beautiful desert. Not to mention the urine and feces we have to deal with daily around our own property. That's just a taste. You live with that everyday, and I guarantee, you will have an epiphany.

Trish H.
Anne H7 years ago

I (US citizen) live legally in another country. It is my responsibility to be legal. I've met illegal & legal workers in the US. Some with no education & some very educated. They all have a story that we can identify with. In a way I am proud of their efforts. However I spent 14 years of my youth in the US military defending the laws of our nation. I am 2nd generation of legal immigrants on both sides. Escaping poverty or a bad situation does not give you the right to be an American. If I'm not mistaken we have plenty of US citizens in that situation themselves.

The border towns should be safer. They have a lot more security & illegals would want to get as far away from the areas as possible. The farther away you get the less likely you'll be caught & deported. Just because the US was established by immigrants doesn't mean it has to be like that forever. People are now more mobile & each country needs to make difficult decisions about their borders.

For those who just can't stomach drawing the line read up on those other countries. The things they escape will never end unless their own citizens force the issues. Would you expect other nations to welcome those who abandon America? I'm here legally and don't qualify to buy a health care plan. I often get charged much more because I am American.

I agree w/ sending them back. Let their government figure out how to deal with the situation via diplomatic channels. Include a bill for e

ChanTlalok Rain C.

Great comments, I live approximately 20 miles from the border of Reynosa, Tamulipas, Mexico. All is peaceful on the American side. Some what, you white people call illegals live and work here, wait, not some but half of the people, and they don't speaka English (the language of the killers of my people, Apache's). I grew up in Detroit and man I encountered a lot of discrimination in 1950's and 1960's, white people are a trip. Well not all!!

Zoraida Colon-collado
Zoraida colon7 years ago

Judith, the low wages being offered now for work, and I am speaking of white collar workers here, were not brought down by any influx of uneducated migrant workers. You may find a wage war between very well educated professionals from other countries who will work longer hours for less just to make it here, but that's as far as any immigrant population has affected the American job market for the college educated, which was MY point. The American job market is not suffering from low wages because of migrant workers, legal or illegal, it is because there are SO many people out of work that employers can cherry pick at whatever price they want, by and large. You cannot, in any logical sense, blame this on the guys picking tomatoes now can you? Everyone is willing to work for pennies on the dollar now, migrant or not, to keep a roof over their heads and feed their families, and THAT was not brought on by migrant workers, but by our own inept leadership who, by the way, shipped out all the unskilled labor, with the exception of agriculture, to foreign countries is search of bigger profits. So if you want to go after the real culprits here, take a shotgun to Wall Street.

Justin Q.
Justin Q7 years ago

"Yet, despite the ugly picture painted by mass deportations and massively-funded border security bills, communities along the U.S. - Mexico border are actually quite safe."

For lack of a better sentiment, duuuh! Do you really think that illegal immigrants are simply going to jump the border and set up shop in a border town?! Let's give them a little credit here...they're going to get as far from the border (and border patrol) as possible! Places like the Midwest/Great Plains, Northeast/west, or even the Southeast. They haven't made it in this country for all these years because they're morons...just sayin'!