An independent poll, that is, not one scrambled up by Fox News, has found that Americans living along the US-Mexican border “feel their border communities are as safe as most communities in the nation.” It seems that 87.5 percent of border residents said they “feel safe walking or driving in their neighborhood during their regular daily activities.” What does this tell us about the hysterical rhetoric of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer (it’s all “murder, terror and mayhem” on the border), of Senator John McCain (R-AZ), locked in a bitter primary campaign with a Tea Party upstart (send more National Guard!), and, for that matter, our own Attorney General Cuccinelli, and other Republicans who are trying to whip us all into a lynch-prone anti-immigrant frenzy over their latest boogeyman? Maybe we should actually talk to real people who live along the border, instead of “listening to… opportunistic politicians set to score political points by fanning the perception that the border is out of control,” says Fernando Garcia, Executive Director of the Border Network for Human Rights, the outfit which authorized the poll by Reuel Group.
Not every official in the area agrees with Governor Brewer or Senator McCain, anyway. Richard Wilson, El Paso Sheriff, has been quoted:
“What we see in our community is that people are concerned with graffiti and stray dogs. All the issues of urban areas. Extreme violence is just not happening here and we need to revisit how resources are expended on the border. That’s a message to send the administration.”
Then there is Arizona State Representative Kyrsten Sinema, who remarked that “Heated rhetoric on border violence has escalated fear but ignores the reality on the ground.” It is all this hullaballoo that has prevented us from addressing the real problems we do have in our broken immigration system.
What of all the scary stories about decapitated bodies found in the desert? They certainly have frightened Americans who do not live along the border; Fox News polled 900 registered voters nationwide, and found that 60 percent thought we should first secure the border before tackling immigration reform. An ABC-Washington Post poll of 1,400 adults across the country found that 83 percent supported using the National Guard to patrol the border. They make it sound as though the majority of Americans are convinced that the picture of a lawless border painted by demagogues is accurate, and that the punitive “solutions” which are always offered by Republicans are The Answer.
The facts are very different from this latest dishonest narrative from the radical right. Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security, and other officials “on the front lines,” say that the border is more secure than ever, as reported in TIME. For example, in the last three years violent crime has dropped 8 percent in San Diego, and there hasn’t been a killing in three years in Nogales, AZ; Laredo, Texas has had just two murders this year. El Paso, with a population of 700,000, was rated by CQ as the second safest city with a population of 500,000 or more in 2009.
Here are some other findings from the BNHR poll: 67.1 percent “feel safe living in a border community,” and 69.7 percent “feel their border neighborhood is as safe as most US neighborhoods” (take that, Atlanta! or, for that matter, Anacostia), and 51.8 percent “feel safe allowing a child to play in a neighborhood park,” presumably without a parent constantly hovering nearby.
One result of the Border-Hysteria has been a mis-allocation of resources and taxpayers’ money. That famous wall along the border costs $4-$12 million per mile, depending on the terrain, and maintaining the wall will cost $6.5 billion over the next 20 years, says the Government Accounting Office, yet we’ve all seen photos of determined men climbing right over it. Over 30 environmental laws had to be waived so the wall could even be built. The expensive SBInet security technology started in 2006 did not work, and has since been abandoned—- more wasted money. Besides all this waste, the massive border security measures have really hampered what had been lively cross-border trade and tourism, creating another drag on the fragile economic recovery, not to mention the assault on human and civil rights of border residents as we militarize the area. “Most stops and searches are exempt from ‘unreasonable search and seizure’ rules.”
Even worse, the sturm und drang has not worked: apprehensions are declining while the number of migrant deaths is increasing as desperate migrants are forced into ever more treacherous crossing routes. The cry that the migrants are all drug mules is utterly unfounded.
This does not mean that there is not a problem on the other side of the border, in Mexico, of course, or that the US does not need to be on guard against letting Mexican drug cartel violence from spilling over the line. It just means that on this side of the border we now must deal with another Republican fear campaign, the psychological warfare which the GOP customarily uses to try to win elections.
The Border Network for Human Rights (www.bnhr.org) describes itself as one of the leading immigration reform and human rights advocacy organizations in the United States; it is based in El Paso, and claims a membership of 4,000 individuals in south Texas and New Mexico. The group is recommending a “full review of the current border enforcement policy,” beginning with 1) halting construction of the wall, 2) stopping military deployment along the border, and 3) stopping programs that allow local law enforcement officers to enforce federal immigration laws, and 4) fighting so-called Arizona copy-cat laws in other states or localities because it inevitably leads to racial profiling.
That’s all very well, but what would they like to see for immigration reform? They have a lengthy list, which includes, among other things:
* Create an independent oversight commission to review border enforcement practices
* Save lives of migrants by placing rescue beacons and cell phone towers in the desert
* Increase staff levels at legal ports of entry to expedite legal crossings
* Establish a process for consultation among Border Patrol, elected officials, and the border communities
* Include human rights instruction in Border Patrol training
* Standardize “the CBP complaint process”
* Protect the environment, restore areas damaged by the wall
* Pass “comprehensive immigration reform as the only viable long-term solution for reducing undocumented immigration”
The poll was conducted on 1,222 residents in the three Arizona border cities of Douglas, Nogales, and Yuma, two California border cities of El Centro and San Diego, and four Texas border cities of Brownsville, El Paso, Laredo, and McAllister in mid-July. The Reuel Company (firstname.lastname@example.org) which did the poll is based in El Paso also, and says that it conducts polls for candidates and develops products for public schools.
Just what BNHR thinks would be a good “comprehensive immigration reform” has yet to be announced, but at least they have performed the first step by finding out what the true situation is among the border residents.