Did bor­der fence re­duce crime in El Paso?

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - CITY | STATE - By Madlin Mekel­burg

AUSTIN — Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton on Thurs­day told Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump that the bor­der fence in El Paso helped dras­ti­cally re­duce the city’s crime rate and shows why a wall along the na­tion’s south­ern bor­der would be ef­fec­tive.

Pax­ton did not of­fer sta­tis­tics to sup­port his claim or spec­ify which it­er­a­tion of El Paso’s bor­der fence he was re­fer­ring to, although he did ref­er­ence bor­der bar­ri­ers erected un­der for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush.

“El Paso used to have one of the high­est crime rates in Amer­ica,” Pax­ton said. “Af­ter that fence went up and sep­a­rated Juarez, which still has an ex­tremely high crime rate, the crime rates in El Paso now are some of the low­est in the coun­try. So we know it works.”

The fence

Some form of bar­rier has ex­isted be­tween El Paso and Ci­u­dad Juárez for decades, whether it was a chain link fence or the bar­rier that stands along the bor­der to­day.

Pax­ton’s of­fice did not re­turn a re­quest for com­ment look­ing to clar­ify , but given his ref­er­ence to Bush, he was likely point­ing to fenc­ing con­structed un­der the Se­cure Fence Act from 2006.

The pro­posal, signed into law by Bush in Oc­to­ber 2006, kicked off years of spar­ring over con­struc­tion of the fence in El Paso and le­gal chal­lenges to the ef­fort.

The stats

In his re­marks, Pax­ton said El Paso had a high crime rate be­fore the fence was con­structed and that the rate of crime dropped sub­stan­tially af­ter it was com­pleted.

Us­ing Uni­form Crime Re­ports from the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion, the rate of vi­o­lent crime in El Paso can be cal­cu­lated by com­bin­ing data re­ported by the El Paso County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice and the El Paso Po­lice Depart­ment.

Look­ing broadly at the last 30 years, the rate of vi­o­lent crime reached its peak in 1993, when more than 6,500 vi­o­lent crimes were recorded.

Be­tween 1993 and 2006, the num­ber of vi­o­lent crimes fell by more than 34 per­cent and less than 2,700 vi­o­lent crimes were re­ported.

The bor­der fence was au­tho­rized by Bush in 2006, but con­struc­tion did not start un­til 2008.

From 2006 to 2011 — two years be­fore the fence was built to two years af­ter — the vi­o­lent crime rate in El Paso in­creased by 17 per­cent.

The claim

The as­ser­tion made by Pa­trick was also tweeted by White House Press Sec­re­tary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Jan­uary 2018: “Ask El Paso, Texas (now one of Amer­ica’s safest cities) across the bor­der from Juarez, Mex­ico (one of the world’s most dan­ger­ous) if a wall works.”

She linked to an opin­ion piece pub­lished in the New York Post that was ti­tled “This town is proof that Trump’s wall can work.” The piece, writ­ten by a con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor based in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., ar­gued that El Paso’s bor­der fence is the rea­son for the city’s low crime rate and de­creased il­le­gal bor­der cross­ings.

At the time, lo­cal lead­ers re­jected the ar­ti­cle’s find­ings and ar­gued that it did not men­tion the po­lice-com­mu­nity re­la­tions and co­op­er­a­tion be­tween law en­force­ment agen­cies that con­trib­uted to the city’s safety be­fore bor­der fenc­ing was put in place.

U.S. Rep. Veron­ica Es­co­bar, D-El Paso, said there is no ev­i­dence to sup­port Pax­ton’s claims.

“Mr. Pax­ton, like most peo­ple who pur­port to know any­thing about the bor­der, is dead wrong,” Es­co­bar said in a text mes­sage. “El Paso has long (and con­sis­tently) been one of the safest com­mu­ni­ties in Amer­i­can — even be­fore the wall was built.

“It’s this kind of will­ful ig­no­rance that is so dam­ag­ing to bor­der com­mu­ni­ties and our coun­try.”

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