Facts show U.S. immigration fears unfounded

Politics often involves a tug-of-war between perception and fact. One of the most obvious cases involves the insinuation that “illegals” are swarming across our southern border and putting the entire nation at risk.

Of course, “illegals” could be harmless immigrants just looking for a way to feed their families, or sophisticated gangsters armed to the teeth and ready to kidnap and torture any innocent American citizen. The ambiguity of the term, and the uncertainty it causes, only adds to the fear of the uninformed — especially since those gangsters do exist, although in small numbers.

Fears about our supposedly porous borders have been ripe fodder for alarmists who successfully use the topic to gain votes, money and legislation that scales back many of the civil rights protections that have been enacted in recent decades. Many people don’t notice the issue only seems to boil over in election years.

To hear people talk, you’d think the U.S.-Mexico border is under siege and ready to fall to the lawless Mexican bandidos. An Associated Press review, however, finds the border actually is one of the safest regions of the country, and it’s getting safer.

In fact, the four safest large U.S. cities, according to FBI reports, are in border states: they’re San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin.

Certainly, the heightened awareness and police presence in those cities are factors, both in enforcement and deterrence. The AP cites a Customs and Border Protection Department finding that agents patrolling the border face far less danger than local police in most U.S. cities.

While 11 percent of police and sheriff’s officers were assaulted last year, primarily with guns and knives, just 3 percent of Border Patrol agents reported assaults in 2009. Most of those assaults were people throwing rocks, bottles and sticks — despite tales of armed drug and human smugglers ready to blast away anybody who confronts them.

Logic only supports the data. Most of our 20,000 Border Patrol are assigned to the Mexican border. Another 22,000 federal peace officers work in airports, Customs stations and other areas at our ports of entry. They only add to the legions of local police and sheriffs departments that serve border areas.

And more are coming. President Obama recently announced the deployment of up to 1,200 National Guard troops to the border, and promised even more permanent Border Patrol agents.

This law enforcement presence surely is a prime reason the border area is so safe. These officers and agents have proven their worth time and again, from daily arrests and seizures to the possible disruption of major illegal operations.

There’s no way to know just how much crime law enforcers have prevented, but we can reasonably assume it’s significant.

Will these facts quiet the alarmists? Of course not. And that’s unfortunate, because the nativists have succeeded in wrapping immigration — a different issue entirely — into the border security issue. As has been noted countless times, a large percentage of our illegal residents didn’t sneak across the border; they crossed legally, but stayed here after their temporary visas expired.