Border 'Mayhem'? An Illegal Immigration Fact Check Shows Violence Declining

Cochise County, Arizona – a sparsely-populated region the size of Rhode Island in the state's southwest corner – is ground zero in America's latest battle over illegal immigration.

In the past few months, aggressive Mexican drug smugglers and migrants have harassed residents of the county, burglarizing homes and taking food and clothing, local law enforcement officials say.

Ranchers have seen cattle slaughtered and pulled apart by hungry people stealing across the border, and one resident, Robert Krentz, may have been shot dead by an alleged illegal immigrant as he patrolled his land last month.

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The U.S. Border Patrol says apprehensions along the Arizona-Mexico frontier are up 6 percent from October to April.

The situation is part of what Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has characterized as "murder, terror and mayhem" and used as justification for the state's controversial new immigration law. It's also why Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl say the federal government must deploy the National Guard to police the border.

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But while several violent high-profile incidents in the Tucson, Arizona, sector have gained national attention and colored political rhetoric, an ABC News analysis of immigration and crime data, combined with interviews with law enforcement officials, shows something very different -- that violence and crime on the U.S. side of the 2,000-mile border with Mexico are generally on the decline.

By numbers alone, the border region appears, as Department of Homeland Security Secretary and former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano put it, is as "secure now as it has ever been."

More than 646 miles of the border are protected by fence, according to Customs and Border Protection.

Video of Mexican President Addressing Joint Session of Congress

More than 20,000 border patrol agents serve on the front lines -- an 80 percent increase over 2004 and the largest number in history.

The number of illegal immigrants apprehended along the border, which CBP uses to gauge the flow of migrants, is down nearly 55 percent from 2005. The agency captured 540,865 last year.

U.S. Border Towns Report Low, Declining Crime Rates

Meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained and deported a record 387,790 unauthorized immigrants across the U.S. in 2009, and is on pace to set a new record in 2010.

And the growing number of deportations comes as the overall size of the U.S. illegall immigrant population -- 62 percent of which hails from Mexico -- continues to decline. The U.S. unauthorized population in 2009 was 10.8 million, down from a peak of 11.8 million in 2007.

In many of the U.S. border communities themselves, local law enforcement officials report violent- and property-crime rates that have fallen over the past year, and, in several cases, are among the lowest in the country.

Cities like Tucson; Chula Vista, California; and Lardeo, Texas, have all seen year-over-year drops in violent crime, murder, and rape. El Paso, Texas, continues to have one of the lowest rates of violent crime of all U.S. cities, just behind Honolulu, according to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report.

"I don't see the border in chaos at all," said Octavio Rodriguez, who studies drug-related violence along the Mexican border at the University of San Diego Trans-Border Institute. "The Tijuana-San Diego border area in particular is very secure."

To be sure, violence in Mexico itself, driven by warring drug cartels in the communities along the U.S. border, has spiked in the past few years.

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