Feb 5, 2024 - News

Salt Lake City mayor pushes back on claims that illegal border crossings spiked drug crime

A group of GOP governors gathered outside during a press conference.

Republican Governors join Texas Governor Greg Abbott for a briefing on the Operation Lone Star mission to secure the southern border on February 4, 2024 in Texas, United States. Photo: Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu via Getty Images

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall on Monday pushed back against Utah Gov. Spencer Cox's weekend remarks linking the rise in illegal crossings at the southern border to more drug crime in the community.

What he's saying: "You can literally walk through downtown Salt Lake City and see the impacts of those drugs that are coming across the border with Mexico," Cox said at a news conference outside Kearns Mansion on Sunday.

The other side: "Our data doesn't show any [drug crime] increase related to immigration changes at the border," Mendenhall said at a news conference on public safety the next day in response to Axios' inquiry.

  • "That is something that we have worked very hard, and across federal and other public safety partnerships to try to affect," she added.
  • Of note: Axios has requested drug seizure data from the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Reality check: Multiple studies have shown an increase in the undocumented immigrant population does not correlate with a rise in drug-related crimes.

  • Undocumented immigrants are often driven by economic mobility for their families "that predispose them to less criminal involvement and healthier behaviors," according to a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Catch up fast: Cox's comments came hours after he joined 14 other GOP governors, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, at the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas.

  • Abbott on Sunday scrutinized the federal government's border response, accusing President Biden of "aiding and abetting illegal entry."
  • "We are banding together to fight to ensure that we will be able to maintain our constitutional guarantee that states will be able to defend against any kind of imminent danger or invasion," he said.

The big picture: As the Biden administration grapples with the soaring number of migrants and asylum-seekers at the southern border, conservative pundits and politicians have upped accusations that some Democrats support "open border" policies, Axios' Russell Contreras reports.

Yes, but: The U.S.-Mexico border is more fortified than it's ever been with the rise in the number of U.S. Border Patrol agents, barriers and fences and new high-tech surveillance systems.

By the numbers: Between 2005 and 2020, the share of unauthorized immigrants living in Utah has declined from making up 4% of the state population to 2.7%, according to the Pew Research Center.

The intrigue: Cox, who is running for re-election this year, is facing two other GOP challengers, who have also criticized Biden over the number of illegal border crossings.


Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Salt Lake City.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more

More Salt Lake City stories

No stories could be found

Salt Lake Citypostcard

Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Salt Lake City.


Support local journalism by becoming a member.

Learn more