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

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.

More than 20,000 Mexican citizens have been killed since the latest surge in violence began in 2006, and some experts believe recent crimes in Arizona involving illegal immigrants may have ties to that Mexican unrest.

"Certainly, on the U.S. side, the border crime is not out of control even though there are flows [of people and drugs] going both ways," said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a border security expert with the Brookings Institution.

In Cochise County, some people disagree.

"The overall crime numbers here may be stagnant," said Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Carol Capas, "but that doesn't mean crime isn't spilling over the border. It is spilling over."

Tucson Corridor 'Natural Funnel' for Illegal Flows

Still, observers say the seriousness of the few crimes involving illegal immigrants that have occurred in Arizona border communities may be creating the false impression of a widespread violent crime problem that isn't there.

"These high-profile cases on both sides of the border generate fear and intensify lots of reaction, lots of passion, more than reflect any real or substantive problem," said Felbab-Brown.

Other sources say the uptick in violent incidents is a result of heightened enforcement and security measures which are acting as a "natural funnel," forcing drug traffickers, smugglers and illegal workers trying to cross the border into a concentrated area of more dangerous paths into the country.

"The more pressure is applied in urban areas, the further out the migrants and smugglers are going to go, and the more competitive, more violent it's going to get," said Sheriff Tony Estrada of Santa Cruz County, Arizona.

"The increased deployment of Border Patrol Agents and the overall changes in strategy have increasingly pushed illegal immigrants into more dangerous terrain," according to a recent report by the National Foundation for American Policy.

Last year, 417 immigrants were found dead near the border, compared to 390 in 2008 and 298 in 2007, according to the Border Patrol.

"Violence is on the Mexican side, like it's breathing on us," said Estrada, whose county has 50 miles of border with Mexico. "But the [Santa Cruz] county is very safe as a whole. If there's any violence here, it's in the rural areas and canyons… There are probably a lot of things going on we're not aware of."

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