Terror on the Border? Not Exactly.

Gov. Rick Perry tells Fox News that "there is great terror" on the Texas-Mexico border. FBI statistics say otherwise.
by | May 27, 2011
 

Terror on the border? Not exactly.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry spoke with Fox News journalist Greta Van Susteren to criticize the Obama administration's policy towards the border earlier this week in a two-part series titled "Under Attack," that made the area seem like a war zone.

One interview took place in a sort of situation room; the other occurred outdoors, as helicopters flew overhead.

Perry used the interviews to call for more federal resources to secure the border and to criticize President Obama's recent appearance in El Paso. “I don’t want the people of the state of Texas to have to be the catalyst that finally gets the administration to understand that there is great terror on our southern border,” Perry told Van Susteren.

Earlier this month, Obama outlined his immigration policy at an El Paso event. While there, he said that “breathless reports” have portrayed El Paso as a dangerous city, but in reality, “El Paso and other cities and towns along the border are consistently rated among the safest in the nation.”

Perry called that statement "just nonsense." So who’s right?

In a case of remarkably good timing, Perry’s appearance on Fox News happened the very same week the FBI released its Uniform Crime Report, an annual compilation of crime statistics from every city of more than 100,000 people. Those figures reveal the border clearly isn't a violence-plagued war zone.

Governing examined the rates of violent crimes – murders, forcible rapes, robberies, and aggravated assaults – among the four Texas border cities with populations qualifying for the report: El Paso, Laredo, McAllen and Brownsville. All of those cities had violent crime rates below the median average of American cities in the study (though Governing did not include Chicago and a handful of small cities that lacked comprehensive data for the purposes of this analysis). In fact, El Paso had a murder rate of .80 for every 100,000 residents – one of the very lowest in the country.

It’s also worth noting that the four border cities in Texas all have lower murder rates than the four largest cities in the state. Houston’s murder rate, for example, is nearly 15 times that of El Paso. Because Governing analyzed rates, not absolute numbers, that figure already accounts for the difference in population. Put another way, even though Houston’s population is roughly 4 times that of El Paso, it had 54 times as many murders.

The border cities also performed better than the large cities in terms of overall rate of violent crimes, except for Laredo, which has a slightly worse violent crime than Austin.

Several congressmen from the border have disputed the perception that the border is a violent place. “I’m not going to go to the extreme and say it’s heaven. I’m not going to go to the extreme and say the sky is falling,” said U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, whose district includes 200 miles of the Texas-Mexico border, at a Capitol Hill event Thursday.

U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, also highlighted the disparity between Perry's remarks and the crime figures.

“While Governor Perry falsely claims that 'drug cartels have operational control of a substantial amount' of the border to incite fear, new data released by the FBI this week confirm that border cities remain among the safest places to live in the United States,” Reyes said.

Earlier this month, McAllen Police Chief Victor Rodriguez testified before a House subcommittee about border violence, where he said it is important to be aware and respond to the threats originating from Mexico, but “it is also prudent to consider that we are not a lawless frontier and spillover does not mean an invasion.”

Below are the border cities and comparable American cities, in terms of their frequency of violent crimes and murders.

El Paso, Texas

Violent crime rate: 458.3 per 100,000 (closest to: Gresham, Ore. -- 458.4 per 100,000)

Murder rate: .8 per 100,000 (closest to: Sterling Heights, Mich. -- .8 per 100,000)

Laredo, Texas

Violent crime rate: 495.5 per 100,000 (closest to: Abilene, Texas -- 494.3 per 100,000)

Murder rate: 3.9 per 100,000 (closest to Portland, Ore. -- 3.9 per 100,000)

Brownsville, Texas

Violent crime rate: 312.7 per 100,000 (closest to: Fullerton, Calif. -- 319.2 per 100,000)

Murder rate: 3.9 per 100,000 (closest to Portland, Ore. -- 3.9 per 100,000)

McAllen, Texas

Violent crime rate: 222.1 per 100,000 (closest to Garland, Texas -- 223.5 per 100,000)

Murder rate: 3.7 per 100,000 (closest to: Elgin, Ill. -- 3.7 per 100,000)

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