With imposed Mexican President Felipe Calderon visiting DC this week, the situation on the US-Mexico border is getting a lot of attention. Border violence has been of particular concern to US residents. While the situation on the border is a complex situation with no easy solutions, violence has been standard ammo in the anti-immigrant camp, with calls for increased border security to drive out violent elements.
However, in the talks between Obama and Calderon:
[The President’s] discussion of violence in Mexico was separate and distinct from his discussion of comprehensive immigration reform and the need to create a pathway to legal status for unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States. The distinction reflects the fact that unauthorized immigrants are not the cause of the violence which plagues so many communities in Mexico. This distinction stands in marked contrast to the supporters of “get tough” anti-immigrant laws, such as Arizona’s SB 1070, who frequently cite scattered episodes of violence spilling over the border from Mexico as a justification for their legislation.
But just how much credit should we give to the argument? Studies show that violence in US border communities is actually on the decline. At the same time US Border Patrol and the Department of Justice are increasingly focusing resources on prosecuting laborers while violent criminals face less chance of being prosecuted.
While Mexican drug-related violence has rapidly increased since 2006, an ABC News analysis, reported yesterday, shows that violence and crime on the US side of the border is stagnant or declining. Many US border communities have seen yearly drops in violent- and property-related crime rates and some are among the US cities with the lowest crime rates.
This illustrates the point made by the Immigration Policy Center: “unauthorized immigrants aren’t the perpetrators [of border violence], criminal cartels are.”
But instead of increasing drug and weapon smuggling and human trafficking related law enforcement efforts—the cartels’ main industries—US Customs and Border Protection is increasing prosecution of laborers. A January 2010 report (opens a PDF) by the Warren Institute of UC Berkley demonstrating the impact of Operation Streamline on law enforcement shows how devoting increased resources toward prosecuting non-violent border crossers has actually taken away resources from operations focused on drug and weapons smuggling and human trafficking.
Another report by Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse shows that immigration prosecution has risen to 67,994 year-to-date, an approximately 14% increase over last year, and a 139% increase as compared to prosecutions 5 years ago. The majority of these prosecutions are of fist-time border crossers. On the other hand, between 2003 and 2008, weapons prosecutions decreased 19% and drug prosecutions declined by 20%.
So while the Border Patrol and Justice Department focus more resources prosecuting poor workers, serious criminals involved in organized crime are neglected. All the while US guns flow into Mexico and US consumers provide Mexican drug carteles with their biggest customers, ensuring that the US continue to play a large role in the dangerous situation faced by thousands of people south of our border.
While there is no easy solution to border violence, and humane immigration reform remains a distant glimmer on the horizon, there are strong and immediate measures that the executive branch can and should take to alleviate the situation. First the federal government should end the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs, allowing local law enforcement to focus on serious criminals without filling up the nation’s jails and detention centers with poor people seeking a better life. Secondly, the President should refocus efforts and resources toward catching and prosecuting drug and human traffickers.
Still there is no substitute for humane comprehensive immigration reform, one that does not further criminalize immigrants and militarize our border. Through our organizing, we should continue working to make that hope a reality.
For more information on these trends, see the IPC’s data sheet on these reports (opens a PDF).