Violent Crime on the US-Mexican Border

I am always perplexed at all the hype in the news about how dangerous the US-Mexican border is. I have visited US border cities several times in the last 7 years and while there are definitely things about visiting border cities that are eventful, crime and violence are definitely are not normal parts of the experience. The notion that the border is dangerous seems more like the creation of the media and ambitious politicians rather than based on real world observations. This is exactly what two newly released studies suggest.

The Associated Press recently received access to a recent Customs and Border Protection study and a recent FBI crime report. According to these reports:

(1)   Border counties and cities tend to be safer than their counterparts in the rest of the US. Some of the lowest violent crimes rates per capita in the US are in border counties in the southwest. In addition, of the largest 25 cities in the US, San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso, and Austin all have the lowest violent crime rates per capita.

(2)    It is safer for law enforcement to work on the border than it is for them to work in the rest of the US. About 3% of border patrol agents and officers were assaulted last year, and mostly by having rocks thrown at them (it is unclear, however, what percentage of these assaults occurred on the Mexican versus Canadian border). In contrast, about 11% of officers and sheriffs in the rest of the US were assaulted, and mostly with guns and knives.

All of this hype about violence along the border may be the result of the recent fear that increases in crime rates in Mexican border cities might spill over into the US. However, the fear of any spill over is not supported by the facts. As the crime rates in Mexican border cities have increased in the last few years (almost certainly due to the Mexican government trying to crack down on the drug cartels), crime rates in several US border cities and states have actually decreased. This decrease in crime rates is likely the result of the Federal government doubling the number of Border Patrol agents in the last 6 years, making it harder for people to traffic drugs across the border, and has very little to do with crime rates in Mexican border cities.

Other blog posts and articles about this topic can be found here and here.

About Julie VanDusky-Allen

Julie VanDusky-Allen is at Boise State University and received her PhD in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2011. Her research focuses on institutional choice and development, political parties, the legislative process, and Latin American politics.

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