Houston Chronicle Sunday

Did border fence reduce crime in El Paso?

- 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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