Last weekend, hundreds of well-informed tea party activists rallied around a border fence in Hereford, Arizona. Many participants, fearing danger at the border, brought weapons. Luckily, the more level-headed organizers convinced them that they would be ok if they left the side-arms in their vehicles. Many voiced concerns were comical at best, with a local radio host claiming that while he was used to finding bugs in his bed, now he was worried that “home invaders” would be there.

These strange fears ignore some basic facts:

  1. We spend more money on border enforcement than ever before. The annual budget of the U.S. Border Patrol stood at $3.0 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2009—a nine-fold increase since FY 1992. The combined budgets of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the parent agency of the Border Patrol within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS interior-enforcement counterpart to CBP, grew from $9.1 billion in FY 2003 to $17.2 billion in FY 2010.
  2. Violent crime in Arizona is at its lowest rate in years. FBI data confirms that violent crime rates in Phoenix, Tucson, and Mesa are all down in recent years, in addition to violent crime rates being down statewide.
  3. Border crossings aren’t the only way unauthorized immigrants enter the U.S. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that between 25 percent and 40 percent of all unauthorized immigrants do not sneak across the border, but come to the United States on valid visas and then stay after their visas expire.

A new poll commissioned by Border Network for Human Rights in El Paso, Tex., and conducted by the independent polling firm The Reuel Group, Inc., found that more than 87% of people living along the southwest border feel safe, compared to 8% who did not feel safe and 5% who were undecided (The poll surveyed 1,222 adults, primarily likely voters, in 10 communities along the U.S. border: Douglas, Nogales and Yuma, Ariz., El Centro and San Diego, Calif., Las Cruces, N.M. and Brownsville, El Paso, Laredo, McAllen, Tex.).

Despite the presence of nervous tea-partiers along the border, Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D) stated that much of the fear of border violence comes from people not near the border, but to the north.

“The fear that folks have around border security largely rests in the interior, from folks who live far away from the border,” says Sinema, adding that this is because they get their information from politicians and the media. People who live along the border, Sinema says, know that “we have not seen an increase in border-related violence in the last 18 years. If anything, we’ve seen a decrease in the last 10 years.”

In a recent interview, the CBP Commissioner, Alan Bersin, stated that on the U.S. side of the southwest border, “the communities along the border are safe.” Certainly, there are questions to be answered along the border, especially on the Mexican side. However, mass hysteria over an issue which is less of a problem than it is in years seems misguided. Perhaps energy should be focused on real issues like the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

Photo by Cobalt123