Radley Balko at Reason Online uses the case of El Paso, Texas, as one of America’s safest, happiest cities to argue that cities with large numbers of immigrants are, contrary to popular belief, safer than those without:
By conventional wisdom, El Paso, Texas should be one of the scariest cities in America. In 2007, the city’s poverty rate was a shade over 27 percent, more than twice the national average. Median household income was $35,600, well below the national average of $48,000. El Paso is three-quarters Hispanic, and more than a quarter of its residents are foreign-born. Given that it’s nearly impossible for low-skilled immigrants to work in the United States legitimately, it’s safe to say that a significant percentage of El Paso’s foreign-born population is living here illegally.
El Paso also has some of the laxer gun control policies of any non-Texan big city in the country, mostly due to gun-friendly state law. And famously, El Paso sits just over the Rio Grande from one of the most violent cities in the western hemisphere, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, home to a staggering 2,500 homicides in the last 18 months alone. A city of illegal immigrants with easy access to guns, just across the river from a metropolis ripped apart by brutal drug war violence. Should be a bloodbath, right?
Here’s the surprise: There were just 18 murders in El Paso last year, in a city of 736,000 people. To compare, Baltimore, with 637,000 residents, had 234 killings. In fact, since the beginning of 2008, there were nearly as many El Pasoans murdered while visiting Juarez (20) than there were murdered in their home town (23).
El Paso is among the safest big cities in America. For the better part of the last decade, only Honolulu has had a lower violent crime rate (El Paso slipped to third last year, behind New York). Men’s Health magazine recently ranked El Paso the second "happiest" city in America, right after Laredo, Texas—another border town, where the Hispanic population is approaching 95 percent.
So how has this city of poor immigrants become such an anomaly? Actually, it may not be an anomaly at all. Many criminologists say El Paso isn’t safe despite its high proportion of immigrants, it’s safe because of them.
Balko, and others he cites, argue that the qualities immigrants bring with them (and the qualities that make them willing to emigrate) make them more likely than less to be good (non-)citizens. To answer the argument that Texas’ loose gun-control laws account for this, he cites places with far stricter laws, such as San Diego, Los Angeles, and New York City. It’s a sympathetic case he makes, since I think the arrival of people who actually want to be here in the end strengthens and renews the nation. Balko’s argument leaves unanswered a few questions, however:
First, the gun control argument doesn’t account for unregistered weapons that may be in the hands of otherwise law-abiding immigrants. Legal or not, the possession of a firearm is a deterrent to crime. Also, the lower crime rate may be due to better policing methods than the law-abiding qualities of the immigrants, themselves. Notably, both New York and Los Angeles use methods of crime fighting pioneered by William Bratton, who has been police chief in both cities. It would illuminating to know if El Paso uses similar methods.
Balko correctly assails the myths perpetuated by illegal immigration opponents, and the reliance on anecdotal evidence by critics such as conservative columnist Michelle Malkin. This is an important point to bear in mind: anecdotes serve to remind us of the real human tragedies that can ensue when someone is let into the country who shouldn’t be here. (Of course, there are certainly stories of illegals who become successes, too.) The risk is that focusing on heart-wrenching individual cases may lead us to miss the overall truth. Balko provides a welcome corrective.
One point of disagreement I have is that the article seems to gloss over the fact that many of the immigrants the author defends are nevertheless here illegally. They have committed a crime to get here. Perhaps it reflects the difference between the Libertarian (the point of view of Reason) and the libertarian-conservative views, but obedience to the law still matters, and a nation has the right to control its own borders — indeed, it has the duty to do so, if it wishes to still be considered sovereign. In other words, I want the immigrants, but I want them here legally.
Solving that dilemma, of course, is easier said than done – just witness the recurring screaming matches over
amnesty immigration reform. And gross generalizations don’t help (Hey! Isn’t that what you just did, ese? -Tito Don’t be smart.). Radley Balko’s article, on the other hand, is a useful addition to the debate.