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U.S.-Mexico border is relatively safe, studies show

Demonstrators protest against the new Arizona immigration law in front of the White House on Thursday. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer met with President Barack Obama at the Oval Office.

Associated Press

Demonstrators protest against the new Arizona immigration law in front of the White House on Thursday. Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer met with President Barack Obama at the Oval Office.

MEXICO CITY — It's one of the safest parts of America, and it's getting safer.

It's the U.S.-Mexico border, and even as politicians say more federal troops are needed to fight rising violence, government data show it actually isn't so dangerous after all.

The top four big cities in America with the lowest rates of violent crime are all in border states: San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin, according to a new FBI report. And an in-house Customs and Border Protection report shows that Border Patrol agents face far less danger than street police in most U.S. cities.

The Customs and Border Protection study, obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request, shows 3 percent of Border Patrol agents and officers were assaulted last year, mostly when assailants threw rocks at them. That compares with 11 percent of police officers and sheriff's deputies assaulted during the same period, usually with guns or knives.

In addition, violent attacks against agents declined in 2009 along most of the border for the first time in seven years. So far this year assaults are slightly up, but data are incomplete.

"The border is safer now than it's ever been," said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling.

He said one factor is that with fewer jobs available amid the U.S. recession, illegal immigration has dropped. And responding to security concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the Border Patrol has doubled the number of agents in the region since 2004.

Nonetheless, border lawmakers and governors say their region is under siege.

"Violence in the vicinity of the U.S.-Mexico border continues to increase at an alarming rate. We believe that this violence represents a serious threat to the national security of the United States as well as a serious threat to U.S. citizens that live along the 1,969-mile long border," a dozen bipartisan members of Congress from border states wrote President Obama.

In response to those concerns, Obama pledged to send 1,200 National Guard troops to help and spend an extra $500 million on border security.

FBI crime reports for 2009 show violent crime in Arizona declined. And violent crimes in southwest border counties are among the lowest in the nation per capita — they've dropped by more than 30 percent in the last two decades. Of America's 25 largest cities, San Diego — with one out of four residents an immigrant — has the lowest violent crime rate.

Concerns about danger come, in part, from Mexico, where raging cartel violence has taken 23,000 lives in three years, often within view of the U.S. border. There's frequent talk of the potential for that violence to spread across the border, although so far it hasn't happened to any significant degree.

Obama, Arizona governor meet, but differences remain

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer told President Barack Obama that Americans "want our border secured" and called Thursday for completion of a separating fence. Obama underscored his objections that the tough immigration law she signed is discriminatory.

Meeting in the Oval Office, Obama said Arizona's law and similar efforts by more than 20 states would interfere with the federal government's responsibility to set and enforce immigration policy.

Neither side appeared to give ground on the contentious issue although both talked about seeking a bipartisan solution.

Obama urged her to "be his partner" in working toward a comprehensive overhaul of the nation's badly fractured immigration system. Brewer said afterward that she told Obama her state is not ready for the comprehensive solution he favors.

Thursday's meeting was a byproduct of Brewer's decision to sign a first-in-the-nation law requiring police enforcing other laws to check immigration status if they suspect someone is in the country illegally. The law also makes being in the U.S. illegally a state crime.

U.S.-Mexico border is relatively safe, studies show 06/04/10 [Last modified: Friday, June 4, 2010 12:13am]

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