US-Mexico border safety is not a laughing matter 

It’s not uncommon to find wide disparities between the conventional wisdom among Washington elites and the reality experienced daily beyond the west bank of the Potomac River. There is, however, a Grand Canyon’s worth of difference between Washington and the rest of the country on the matter of border security with Mexico.

President Barack Obama claims the border has never been safer, that his administration has done everything demanded by Republicans, and more, to secure the border, and he cites the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports data to prove his point. He even went so far in a speech earlier this week in El Paso, Texas, to chide his critics, claiming they will never be satisfied, not even with a moat full of alligators.

Obama should have tuned in to C-SPAN to watch a hearing on the issue before the Homeland Security Oversight, Investigations and Management Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas. Among much else, Obama would have heard the following comments:

  • “We have incursions every day. We have people that are afraid to go out on their property,” said McAllen, Texas, police Chief VictorRodriguez.
  •  “It’s not more secure than it’s ever been, it’s more violent,” said Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzales Jr.
  •  “The bottom line is that it’s not secure. There’s been a proliferation of organized crime in Texas,” said Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The crime data cited by Obama and Janet Napolitano, his Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, “only prove that the border is not secure,” McCraw said.

We also wonder if White House press secretary Jay Carney, a former journalist, warned his boss about the notorious unreliability of Uniform Crime Reports data. Journalists experienced in data-driven crime reporting have known for years to be wary of UCR data for a variety of reasons, most notably the inconsistency of crime definitions and reporting periods among jurisdictions sending data to the FBI.

But, as McCaul pointed out, there is an additional problem with UCR data in discussions about crime in the Mexico border region: “The UCR does not include kidnappings, extortions, home invasions, smuggling or recruitment of children that are directly related to cartel violence.”

Americans living near the border, especially those involved in law enforcement, know far more about their security than anyone in Washington relying on a UCR spreadsheet. That’s why border security is nothing to joke about.

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