One of my readers claimed that El Paso demonstrated that a wall was necessary on the Mexican/U.S. border. He was echoing what Donald Trump said. I think both were wrong. Trump said he wanted to build a “big beautiful wall.” It was a crucial part of Trump’s election platform in 2016, and is likely to be so again in 2020. No doubt he will claim that Democrats are weak on border security.
Trump justifies his demands because there is so much crime on the southern border, he claims. It is an emergency he says. Is it? Lets look at some of the issues.
In his State of the Union Address, Donald Trump, playing on the fears of Americans, as he always does when he discusses immigration, said that a good example of why the wall was urgently needed was because of how well it worked in El Paso. It directly led to drastic reductions in crime, Trump claimed. El Paso was crime infested before the wall and it turned the city around.
Beto O’Rourke the former candidate for the US Senate in Texas, and current candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, who narrowly lost in the 2018 mid-term elections, formerly represented El Paso for 3 terms in the House of Representatives. He is a resident of El Paso. Unlike Trump, he knows El Paso.
First, O’Rourke pointed out Trump’s characterization of Mexicans as “murderers and rapists” when he launched his campaign for election of President in 2016 was completely false. As he pointed out, the crime rate of immigrants in the United States is lower than for Americans born in the country! That is a pretty powerful statistic that clearly belies Trump’s claims. This includes so-called ‘illegal’ immigrants.
Secondly, O’Rourke said, “El Paso has been the safest city in the United States not despite the fact that it a city of immigrants, but because we are a city of immigrants.”
I watched a very interesting interview on Amanpour & Company. Christiane Amanpour interviewed the current mayor of El Paso, Dee Margo. Margo is the Republican mayor of El Paso. When he was asked to comment on Trump’s recent comments about El Paso he was clearly amused. When asked to look again at Trump’s statements on the video monitor, he smiled and said, he loved looking at Trump’s comments. He obviously had little respect for Trump’s views even though they both belong to the same party.
Margo pointed out some very interesting facts. To begin with, El Paso is the largest city on the US/Mexico border. It has 2.5 million people. El Paso is deeply entwined with Mexico he said and has been so for 400 years. He said he told Trump that if we wanted to understand the border and its issues he should come to El Paso. Trump declined to come to El Paso because he was too busy to learn about the border. He was there to harangue about the border and facts would have got in the way of that.
Margo is no believer in open borders. I have never encountered anyone who is. Even Democrats are not in favor of open borders despite what Republicans say. Margo said he believes physical barriers are a part of border control. They have a role to play. But the wall, Margo said, is not a big deal. Margo pointed out that there are already 78 miles of border fences in the El Paso region. He prefers the word “fence” to “wall’ as he believes it is more accurate. Those fences are not continuous however, and never have been.
In 2008 under President George W. Bush the border fencing in the region was enhanced. They added about 10 miles of chain-link fence Margo said. Before then the fence had many holes in it. Or as many say, it was “porous.”
McAllen Texas, and San Diego, California, and El Paso Texas, are all border cities. All of them are safe cities, according to Amanpour. Again, Margo did not disagree. In fact they are safer than comparable cities further inland, he said. According to Mayor Margo, “El Paso is ranked as the safest city in the United States for cities with a population over 500,000 people!” It is not crime infested and never has been, before or after the enhancements to the wall in 2008.
Margo denied that the main reason it was so safe was the wall. He said it had an excellent police force that emphasized community policing that had been very effective for years.
Margo pointed out that El Paso’s crime rate was much higher in the 1990s and partly this was because the wall was porous. He said that back then Mexicans would cross the border through these big holes not for the purpose of drug trafficking or smuggling or making illegal stays, but rather criminals came in to steal cars and take them back to Mexico. They were not leaving anything in Texas–neither drugs nor people. They were taking out cars. That was one of the reasons for the wall improvements. It made Texans feel safer and did have some effect on reducing these crimes.
The crime rate in El Paso declined sharply until about 2006. In other words, it declined before the enhancements to the fence were made in 2008! Again that was largely because of effective policing, Margo claimed. After the fence improvements were made in 2008 the crime rate did not drop. It actually went up, though only slightly. Yet the crime rate remained low and fairly consistent. There were no dramatic changes after the fence improvements were made, he said. Those improvements had a negligible effect but to the extent they had any effect crime rates went up not down. Yet, Margo admitted, some citizens felt safer as a result of fence improvements so he did no oppose those improvements.
Margo made it clear, that contrary to statements made by President Trump, El Paso was not crime ridden before the fence improvements were made and it is not crime ridden now either. Those fence improvements have had little effect on drug trafficking and illegal border crossing. The reason for that course is that almost all illegal crossings and all crime occur at border entry points.
The border that Mayor Margo described was very different form the one Trump described. That is hardly surprising. Trump and the truth keep little company. El Paso has 6 bridges across the river to Mexico with 20,000 people crossing the border legally every day. Trade between the 2 countries has been important for centuries. He added that the people of El Paso would like to increase legal immigration from Mexico and other places. They need people because the unemployment rate is so low. They are often frustrated at how immigration policies based on fear and prejudice often interfere with this.
It is true that many people have been gathering at the border in recent months to claim asylum, but that was largely influenced by Trump’s policies. His policies have been making things worse not better. More on this later.