Right Thinking From The Left Coast
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Thursday, August 05, 2010

Fuzzy Illegal Math

I bashed the Left for abusing statistics last week; time to bash the Right.

Americans tend to be panicky about crime.  Poll after poll show that people think crime is increasing despite violent crime having fallen by 40% over the last two decades (and becoming almost exclusively concentrated in drug-infested areas).  We are at violent crime rates not seen since the 1970’s.  Even in the states where illegal immigration is bad, crime continues to fall—at least everywhere that is not under Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s iron rule.

Well, that’s enough for some people, who just know that illegal immigration is turning America into a post-apocalyptic wasteland.  So CNS news has resorted to distorting the numbers:

When measured by the number of criminal defendants charged with federal crimes by U.S. attorneys, the top five U.S. judicial districts for fiscal 2009 were all on the U.S.-Mexico border.

In fact, these five judicial districts are the only five on the U.S.-Mexico border—covering its entire expanse from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean.

...

In the Southern District of Texas, which covers a stretch of border from Brownsville past Laredo, the U.S. attorney’s office filed criminal charges against 8,801 defendants in fiscal 2009. That gave that district the nation’s No. 1 ranking for most criminal defendants charged in 2009, according to data published in Table 1 of the United States Attorneys’ Annual Statistical Report for Fiscal Year 2009.

The 8,801 criminal defendants charged in the Southern District of Texas, in fact, was more than four times the 1,959 charged in the Southern District of New York (which includes Manhattan and the Bronx) and more than six times the 1,377 charged in the Eastern District of New York (which included Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island).

He uses these numbers to argue that we’re experiencing a wave of border violence.  But this is extremely deceptive.  The federal government prosecutes different things than the states and and cities. Two-thirds of the federal cases are for either immigration or drug smuggling, both of which could be significantly ameliorated with a guest worker program.  I’m glad that the federal government doesn’t have a problem with people trying to smuggle aliens and drugs from Manhattan into the Bronx.  But that’s not really a good contrast to a several thousand mile long border separating a poor country from a rich one.

If you actually look at violent crime, you’ll find that the numbers say the exact opposite of what CNS is saying:

According to the FBI, the four large U.S. cities (with populations of at least 500,000) with the lowest violent crime rates — San Diego, Phoenix and the Texas cities of El Paso and Austin — are all in border states. “The border is safer now than it’s ever been,” U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling told the Associated Press last month. Even Larry Dever, the sheriff of Arizona’s Cochise County, where the murder last March of a local rancher, believed to have been committed by an illegal immigrant, sparked calls for the law, conceded to the Arizona Republic recently that “we’re not seeing the [violent crime] that’s going on on the other side.”

They note that Arizona’s crime rate is plunging dramatically—down a third in Phoenix alone.  But what of those infamous kidnappings?

It is true that Phoenix has in recent years seen a spate of kidnappings. But in almost every case they’ve involved drug traffickers targeting other narcos for payment shakedowns, and the 318 abductions reported last year were actually down 11% from 2008. Either way, the figure hardly makes Phoenix, as Arizona Senator John McCain claimed last month, “the No. 2 kidnapping capital of the world” behind Mexico City. A number of Latin American capitals can claim that dubious distinction.

An even more telling example is El Paso. Its cross-border Mexican sister city, Ciudad Juárez, suffered almost 2,700 murders last year, most of them drug-related, making it possibly the world’s most violent town. But El Paso, a stone’s throw across the Rio Grande, had just one murder. A big reason, say U.S. law-enforcement officials, is that the Mexican drug cartels’ bloody turf wars generally end at the border and don’t follow the drugs into the U.S. Another, says El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles, is that “the Mexican cartels know that if they try to commit that kind of violence here, they’ll get shut down.”

The reason violence is so low compared to the cross-border cities is because our cops are actual cops.  However much I criticize them for doing stupid shit like shooting dogs and confiscating cameras, they are at least trying to enforce the law.  The cops in the Mexican border cities are usually bought and paid for by the drug cartels.  If you kill someone in Ciudad Juarez, you’ll probably get away with it.  You kill someone here, our cops will hunt your ass down.

That’s not to say we should throw our hands up and open up the borders.  Certainly a part of the reason the violence is staying on the southern side of the border is the large number of federal, state and local law enforcement officers that have been put into our border cities.  There’s no guarantee that things won’t change as the drug violence continues.  And rule of law arguments still carry a lot of weight with me on the immigration issue.

But the idea that our border states are being turned into kill zones is simply unsupported by the facts.  And no amount of deceptive number juggling is going to change that.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 08/05/10 at 07:54 AM in Politics   Law, & Economics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
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