Border Counties: Crime Skyrockets

The counties bordering Mexico would rank No. 1 in federal crime if they were a state, according to a new study.

The crimes are mostly related to immigration and drugs, but the future looks bleak for the borderlands if something isn't done soon, according to the 246-page report.

"We have many challenges to address, and our problems have a significant impact on the nation as a whole," said Greg Cox, president of the U.S.-Mexico Border Counties Coalition, and a San Diego County, Calif., supervisor.

The report, titled "At the Crossroads: Border Counties in Transition," was conducted by the University of Texas at El Paso's Institute for Policy and Economic Development. The statistical report's 14 chapters, which took two years to complete, rank a number of critical areas, such as public health, immigration, crime, housing affordability, employment and education.

"Although the U.S.-Mexico Border Counties Coalition was founded nearly a decade ago because of the high costs border counties bear to incarcerate criminal undocumented aliens and provide emergency medical care to undocumented immigrants, we want to take this opportunity to remind Congress, and the nation, that immigration is only one issue that affects the border," Cox said.

The report comes out on the same day that Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano said she had signed an executive order to expand the Arizona National Guard's presence at the state's porous border with Mexico to support federal efforts to combat illegal immigration.

She referred questions about the number of troops and costs to the National Guard, and declined to elaborate on the mission the troops would perform, according to The Associated Press.

The border counties' study magnifies the border region's high drop-out rates, heavy dependence upon federal government assistance, and high rates of tuberculosis and diabetes, Cox said.

"What is disturbing to me is if you look at health care along the border, it is that we rank 51st in the border counties in providing health care," Cox said. "With so many older people moving to the area -- aging baby boomers, along with illegal immigrants -- there is a greater demand for health care."

Cox is asking for reimbursement in the area to pay for health care costs and crime.

"These border counties are subsidizing the costs for incarcerating and prosecuting illegal immigrants," Cox said. "The estimate is that it costs about $50 million a year, but we are reimbursed about $2 million."

Funding from the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program helps reimburse states along the border for federal crime issues, but Cox said it was not enough.

"The money we are spending on these issues is money that could be going toward libraries or parks," Cox said.

The border counties ranked second in the nation in the incidence of tuberculosis, third in deaths from hepatitis, and last in insurance coverage for adults and children.

"My hope is that federal policy-makers will use this report as an educational tool so that they might work with us in partnership in improving the economy, health, and quality of life along the U.S.-Mexico border," Cox said.

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