Poll Shows Border Residents Feel Safe: Advocates Argue Border Security Threat Exaggerated

U.S.-Mexico Border - Photo: wonderlane/flickr

U.S.-Mexico Border. (Photo: wonderlane/flickr)

People in the U.S. who live near the border with Mexico overwhelmingly say they feel safe as they walk and drive in their neighborhoods, according to a new poll.   The results of the survey were released yesterday, just as the U.S. House approved an additional $600-million for border security, including 1,000 added Border Patrol officers.

The results of the New Opinion Poll of Border Residents on Safety prompted local law enforcement officials and immigration advocates to argue that there no need to further amp up border security.

“In the last 14 years we’ve been rated the second safest largest city in the country by a non-profit group,” said El Paso, Texas Sheriff Richard Wiles at a teleconference announcing the release of the poll. “It is concrete evidence that crime rate is low in El Paso,” he continued. “The feeling of residents that they feel safe and enjoy the quality of life the community has to offer is important from a law enforcement perspective.”

Pollster Russell Autry of the Reuel Group, which conducted the study, said the poll was conducted July 14 and 15 i n 10 communities along the U.S.-Mexico border: Douglas, Nogales and Yuma in Arizona; El Centro and San Diego in California; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Brownsville, El Paso, Laredo and McAllen in Texas. The 1,222 respondents were asked four questions, one of which was, ‘Do you feel safe as you walk and drive in your neighborhood?’  Autry said a significant percentage responded positively–87.5 percent overall.  In El Paso, the positive response was 85.4 percent; in Nogales, 90 percent; and in Yuma, 94.5 percent.

The El Paso-based advocacy group Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR) commissioned the study.

Executive Director Fernando García of the BNHR said the portrayal of the border  as an “area of war, mayhem, chaos and fear” is clearly not reflected in the poll. He was referring to a statement made by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer who spoke of “murder, terror and mayhem” on the border.

“This poll sets the record straight and challenges the artificial debate happening right now,” Garcia told the press conference. “People are saying they feel safe at the border.”

Garcia said the real reason Congress has been appropriating more money  for border security is to advance partisan interests and to promote the agenda of xenophobia.

“Enough is enough,” Garcia continued. “Communities are safe.”

Yesterday’s House vote is in addition to the 1,200 National Guard troops and $500 million the president pledged to the border earlier this year.

“I do think resources are misdirected,” said Sheriff Wiles.  “Now is the time to look at true issues and put the resources toward issues important to citizens, such as security in neighborhoods.”

Wiles made the distinction as he explained how El Paso has dealt with the “spillover effect” of crime (drug smuggling and human trafficking, rapes, crimes against undocumented immigrants, etc.)  originating from Juarez, Mexico.

While El Paso is relatively a safe city–“only two homicides this year,” said Wiles–the same cannot be said of Juarez.

“We’re in luck that we have a large law enforcement, our officers are paid well, they receive good training, there’s an infrastructure of support,” he said. “Unfortunately, Juarez is not like that. They don’t have the infrastructure of support  behind them, they’re not paid well, there’s corruption at all levels.”

That might be one reason why the majority of crime hasn’t spilled over the border.

“They’d much rather commit the crime over there where there’s a better chance of getting away with it,” he said.

Arizona State Representative Kyrsten Sinema said there has been no escalation of violence along the border.

“Heated rhetoric on border violence has escalated fear but ignores the reality on the ground,” she said. “We need a comprehensive solution to border security and immigration.”

The “scapegoating has to end,” said Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, based in Washington D.C. Instead of listening to politicians and pundits, he said Congress should listen to people who live on the border. He maintained the deployment of more troops “is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

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