Texas Governor Rick Perry, campaigning for president in 2012, has one message for his state: you are safer at the border than you are in Austin, and it is all the Obama administration’s fault.
President Obama has taken credit for doubling the border patrol to 20,000, for drops in the numbers being held at detention centers, and lower crime rates along the border in places like El Paso and Brownsville. Yet Governor Perry thinks that the federal government has provided too little money and that the state has had to compensate by investing its own funds in the border. As a result, money that would have gone to protect the people in cities like Austin, Houston, or San Antonio was instead funneled away, turning these cities into crime-ridden nightmares.
Yet it turns out(surprise, surprise!) that both Obama and Perry may exaggerate. Even though Austin has a reputation for being one of the safest cities in the country, you are more likely to be shot there than in Brownsville, along the border. The fact that Austin’s population is more than four times larger may have something to do with it. But it also owes to the fact that Brownsville and El Paso were never the dangerous border cities that many believe. While cities across the border in Mexico were plagued by crimes committed by drug lords, the Texas border cities remained largely untouched. El Paso had one homicide in 100,000, while Laredo had 3.8 and Brownsville had four. The rates stayed low even as the population in these cities surged. Meanwhile, the homicide rate in Austin, Houston, and San Antonio is 4.8 per 100,000.
Gilberto Salinas of the Brownsville Economic Development Council attributes the poor image of border cities to the widespread belief that Mexico’s violence has easily crossed the border into the U.S. Indeed, many here in Texas are under the impression that Mexicans routinely shoot across the border at American citizens. Rumors forever circulate that Mexican drug traffickers harass cattle ranchers at the border, though there have been few confirmations. And people like Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, claim that Texas has “lost operational” control of its rural areas. I often get questions from readers as to the safety of particular border areas, especially around Hudspeth County.
Whether or not McCraw’s view is accurate, the truth is that the Department of Homeland Security has a $57 billion budget for 2012 — the largest ever — with nearly $18 million to spend on the border alone. A big chunk of that money goes to local law enforcement agencies in Texas. If anything, the reality seems to be the opposite of what McCraw claims. The Border Patrol at checkpoints routinely pull people over and make them get out of the car so that they can conduct a search and seizure. Often, Border Patrol agents are so eager to find drugs that their pretense for pulling people over is often suspect. Without valid “reasonable suspicion” for pulling people over or “probable cause” for a search, a Border Patrol agent’s search could be illegal. Some people are able to hire experienced federal criminal defense attorneys, who can get this tainted evidence thrown out, but too many face sentences for crimes they didn’t commit. There is certainly no sign of belligerent Mexicans firing at will or any other chaos that Governor Perry or McGraw suggest.
El Paso’s mayor John Cook has an explanation for Governor Perry’s claims: partisan politics. “Your political party becomes more important than the success of the cities that are part of the state.”
Meanwhile, the Government continues its “enforcement” efforts along the border through the use of young and aggressive Border Patrol agents who search the automobiles of citizens and seize small amounts of marijuana and other recreational drugs while huge quantities of drugs continue to be smuggled across the border by other means–and career politicians like Rick Perry posture and strut and call for more “action” at highway stops.