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Why Is El Paso the Safest City in the Country?

December 12, 2011

EL PASO, Texas - National crime rankings released last week confirmed that, for the second year in a row, El Paso is the safest city in the U.S. with a population of more than 500,000. It's evidence that public perception about the border does not always match reality, according to immigrant-rights advocates.

Fernando Garcia directs the Border Network for Human Rights. He says opponents of comprehensive immigration reform would like people to think that the border is hopelessly broken and getting worse.

"Certain people with political agendas, they play with fears and try to connect immigrants to criminality. There's been the intentional attempt to distort the reality of border communities."

Another common misperception, he says, is that border security has been neglected. He cites recent Border Patrol statistics showing that unauthorized crossings have fallen to some of the lowest levels in decades.

While Mexican border communities have been plagued by drug-cartel-related violence for years, the vast majority of border residents on the U.S. side - from San Diego, Calif., to Brownsville, Texas - say they feel safe, according to a poll commissioned last year by the Border Network. Garcia says one of the reasons El Paso is so safe is that the city has rejected recent trends toward cracking down on undocumented immigrants.

"El Paso is the safest city in the nation because they are not enforcing immigration laws. They are not treating immigrants as criminals, they are treating immigrants as a part of the solution."

Local law-enforcement authorities, he explains, have maintained good communication with immigrants by not participating in federal enforcement efforts that he says drive a wedge between police and communities. As a result, residents are not afraid of helping police deter crime, he adds.

The number of unauthorized border crossings is going down, in part, because there are fewer job opportunities during bleak economic times, according to analysis from the Pew Hispanic Center, and also because it is tougher than ever to make the journey. Political rhetoric to the contrary during this election season ignores the facts on the ground, Garcia says.

"We have almost tripled the amount of border patrol agents at the border, we have allocated military resources, we have built hundreds of walls - and these people, they are still saying what they were saying 10 years ago. It seems that there's never going to be enough enforcement for them."

He accuses politicians who claim there can be no comprehensive solution to the nation's immigration woes until the border is secure of catering to nativist - and sometimes racist - attitudes.

The Pew study is available at http://bit.ly/sx9TUd. Border Network security survey results are at http://scr.bi/tCIM1w.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX