On Sunday, New York Times reporter Randal Archibold offered up more of his slanted reporting on Arizona's pending new immigration enforcement law, suggesting that supporters of tough immigration enforcement are fostering fear by exaggerating the problem of violent crime on the border with Mexico: "On Border Violence, Truth Pales Compared to Ideas."
But does his evidence stand up? Two conservative writers say no, pointing to FBI statistics that show crime has increased substantially in towns outside major metropolitan areas and rural counties.
When Representative Gabrielle Giffords, Democrat of Arizona, announced that the Obama administration would send as many as 1,200 additional National Guard troops to bolster security at the Mexican border, she held up a photograph of Robert Krentz, a mild-mannered rancher who was shot to death this year on his vast property. The authorities suspected that the culprit was linked to smuggling.
"Robert Krentz really is the face behind the violence at the U.S.-Mexico border," Ms. Giffords said.
It is a connection that those who support stronger enforcement of immigration laws and tighter borders often make: rising crime at the border necessitates tougher enforcement.
But the rate of violent crime at the border, and indeed across Arizona, has been declining, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as has illegal immigration, according to the Border Patrol. While thousands have been killed in Mexico's drug wars, raising anxiety that the violence will spread to the United States, F.B.I. statistics show that Arizona is relatively safe.
That Mr. Krentz's death nevertheless churned the emotionally charged immigration debate points to a fundamental truth: perception often trumps reality, sometimes affecting laws and society in the process.
Archibold again pompously implied fear-mongering on the part of supporters of immigration enforcement:
Moreover, crime statistics, however rosy, are abstract. It takes only one well-publicized crime, like Mr. Krentz's shooting, to drive up fear.
Crime figures, in fact, present a more mixed picture, with the likes of Russell Pearce, the Republican state senator behind the immigration enforcement law, playing up the darkest side while immigrant advocacy groups like Coalición de Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Coalition), based in Tucson, circulate news reports and studies showing that crime is not as bad as it may seem.
For instance, statistics show that even as Arizona's population swelled, buoyed in part by illegal immigrants funneling across the border, violent crime rates declined, to 447 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2008, the most recent year for which comprehensive data is available from the F.B.I. In 2000, the rate was 532 incidents per 100,000.
Nationally, the crime rate declined to 455 incidents per 100,000 people, from 507 in 2000.
Reporter Jennifer Steinhauer seconded Archibold's assertion about crime dropping on the Arizona border in her Tuesday front-page profile of Sen. John McCain on the campaign trail in Arizona:
While border crime has decreased in this state in recent years, the killing of a prominent rancher in the south by what the police suspect was an illegal immigrant set off rage across the state, and helped fuel a tough new state law directed at immigrants.
But Tom Maguire researched the actual FBI statistics and came away with the opposite result, though his results are not definitive:
...the stats reprinted below tell a different story -- measured by violent crimes per 100,000, the non-[Metropolitican Statistical Area] portion of Arizona has seen a dramatic increase in crime....these numbers do not support the case that the rural and border areas of Arizona are getting safer. Quite the contrary, actually. Maybe the Times can turn a reporter loose on that.
Taking off from Maguire's spadework, Mark Hemingway at the Washington Examiner explained:
...essentially, the FBI crime stats are broken down by region and while crime has fallen 20 percent in cities from 2000 to 2008, in towns outside major metropolitan areas and rural counties crime is up 39 and 45 percent, respectively. In other words, it sure looks like crime is way up in the border regions of Arizona.