Oct 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Border cities again see low violent crime rates

People pass a mural funded by SpaceX founder's Musk Foundation in downtown Brownsville, Texas.

A mural funded by SpaceX founder's Musk Foundation in downtown Brownsville, Texas. Photo: Mark Felix/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The latest FBI crime data once more shows how some communities along the U.S.-Mexico border have lower violent crime rates than other U.S. cities similar in size.

The big picture: Many Republicans have focused on illegal immigration during this year's midterms, often portraying border communities as dangerous and lawless.

State of play: An Axios analysis of eight U.S. border communities that reported crimes to the FBI in 2021 found they have lower violent crime and homicide rates than the national average.

  • The FBI released its annual crime data earlier this month.

By the numbers: On average, the eight cities Brownsville, McAllen, Laredo, Eagle Pass and El Paso in Texas, Sunland Park in New Mexico, Yuma in Arizona, and San Diego had a violent crime rate of 333.6 per 100,000 residents, compared to 388.57 for the national average.

  • The same cities also had a homicide rate of 4.5 per 100,000 residents in 2021, compared to 6.8 in the nation. (The homicide rate in the same cities was 4.2 in 2020).

Of note: Yuma was the only community near the border in 2021 that had violent crime and murder rates higher than the national average.

Some border cities like McAllen, Texas, a city of 144,000, had a particularly low violent crime rate of 180.2 per 100,000 people. The community is across from Reynosa, Mexico, one of the most dangerous places in the Americas due to cartel violence.

  • Eagle Pass, a city of 29,500, had a violent crime rate of 179.6 per 100,000 people.
  • Jackson, Michigan, a city of 32,250, had a violent crime rate of 1,094.5, an Axios analysis found.

Between the lines: Experts, police and elected officials don't know why rates stay so low compared to cities of the same size and similar demographics, but many point to research showing low crime in immigrant communities.

  • They also point to the high presence of law enforcement in the region, from Border Patrol to federal drug enforcement agents.
  • Brownsville police spokesperson Martin Sandoval said collaboration between federal and local law enforcement has helped his city keep the homicide rate below the national average.
  • "We jump on the crime and worry about jurisdiction later," Sandoval said.

But, but: Police departments in three border communities — Del Rio, Texas, Nogales, Arizona, and Calexico, California — didn't submit crime numbers to the FBI for 2021.

  • That also goes for nearly 40% of law enforcement agencies nationwide, including the New York City Police Department and Los Angeles Police Department, who failed to report their 2021 crime data, according to data provided to Axios Local from a partnership with The Marshall Project.
  • That resulted in a data gap that experts say makes it harder to analyze crime trends and fact-check politicians' claims, reports The Marshall Project's Weihua Li.

Zoom in: Brownsville, Laredo, El Paso, Sunland Park, and Yuma all saw decreases in violent crime rates, the Axios analysis found.

  • Eagle Pass and San Diego experienced slight increases. McAllen saw its low violent crime rate of 85.6 in 2020 skyrocket to 180.2 the next year, though that's still well below the national average.
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