Setting the record straight on border crime

Proponents of S.B. 1070 would have you believe that there is a crime epidemic in Arizona caused by undocumented immigrants. But newly released statistics from Arizona’s Department of Public Safety and the FBI paint a different picture. They 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 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.

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.

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.

The southwest border is also becoming safer, and 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. Furthermore, there is no evidence of "spillover" of violence from Mexico. El Paso, Texas, has three bridges leading directly into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, the city that has suffered the most casualties as a result of Mexico’s deadly war on drug cartels, which has claimed 23,000 lives since 2006. El Paso experienced only 12 murders in 2009, which was actually down from 17 in 2008. San Diego, Calif., saw 41 murders in 2009, down from 55 in 2008, and Tucson, Ariz., experienced 35 in 2009, a significant decrease from the 65 murders committed in 2008. Claims of spillover violence are clearly overblown.

Instead of creating "safer neighborhoods," Arizona’s law will undermine community safety by decreasing civilian cooperation with police, marginalizing immigrant communities and diverting resources from fighting serious crime. The law will "drive a wedge between some communities and law enforcement" instead of reducing crime, argues Rob Davis, police chief of San Jose, Calif. 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.

In addition, 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.

After sifting fact from fiction, it becomes clear that border states are in fact safe today and are only getting safer. Let’s embrace this fortunate reality and move on to an actual problem like fixing our nation’s broken immigration system.

Ann Garcia is the special assistant for immigration policy at the Center for American Progress.