CBP Director: ‘Some of The Safest Communities in America’ Are on U.S.-Mexico Border

By Edwin Mora | May 2, 2012 | 4:52 PM EDT

Gene Garza, director of U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Laredo, Texas. (Photo: CBP)

(CNSNews.com) -- The U.S. side of the southwest border is home to “some of the safest communities in America,” Gene Garza, the director of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)in the Laredo, Texas field office, told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Garza testified before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security on May 1 at a hearing entitled, “Using Technology to Facilitate Trade and Enhance Security at Our Ports of Entry.” The CBP is a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Garza said he based his assessment of the safety of U.S. communities along the southwest border to information derived from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), a compilation of annual U.S. crime statistics.

However, the U.S. Attorneys’ Annual Statistical Report for Fiscal Year 2011 paints a different picture, showing that 80 percent of all cases filed against criminal defendants in U.S. Magistrate Courts were filed in districts along the U.S.-Mexican border.

Both the FBI and the U.S. Attorneys are components of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Although the most recent U.S. Attorneys’ report makes no direct mention of U.S. border violence, the FY 2010 report states, "Violence along the border of the United States and Mexico has increased dramatically during recent years. The violence associated with Mexican drug trafficking organizations poses a serious problem for law enforcement personnel."

In addition, in May 2011, Steven McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, when testifying before lawmakers, questioned the ability of the FBI Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) to fully assess the crime situation in border areas.

McCraw said the FBI crime statistics highlighted by the CBP about safe border communities fail to provide a full assessment of the situation on the ground.

Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. (AP Photo)

As McCraw testified, “To accurately assess the overall criminal impact of an unsecure border on Texas requires the syntheses of several different variables within and outside the border region. For example, if we were to use only Index Crimes as reported through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system, it would not include essential variables such as extortions, kidnappings, smuggling incidents, corruption, smuggling-related trespassing and vandalism, arrests of aliens from countries with strong terrorist networks, seizures of Cartel drugs, weapons and bulk cash on the 10 major smuggling corridors throughout Texas, Cartel command and control networks operating in Texas, increases in Cartel-related gang activity, death squad members living in Texas, Cartel-related killings of U.S. citizens in Mexico, Cartel-related violence along the border directed at U.S. law enforcement and the recruitment of Texas children in our border region to support Cartel operations on both sides of the border.”

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports include data on “violent crime” and “property crime,” but not all the criminal actions and activities cited by McGraw. The FBI’s violent crime index covers murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. The FBI’s property crime list includes data on burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.

Nonetheless, CBP’s Garza used the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports data in claiming that border communities are among the safest in America.

“In fiscal year 2011, CBP seized 5 million pounds of narcotics, including nearly 370,000 pounds seized at the ports of entry. These numbers demonstrate the effectiveness of our layered approach to security,” stated Garza in his written testimony. “Violent crime in border communities has remained flat or fallen in the past decade, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Report, and some of the safest communities in America are at the border. In fact, violent crimes in Southwest border counties overall have dropped by more than 40 percent and are currently among the lowest in the Nation per capita, even as drug-related violence has significantly increased in Mexico.”

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

While Garza claimed that statistics from the FBI show a decline in violent crimes in U.S. communities that are on or near the southwest border, the U.S. Attorneys’ report presents another side of the story.

There were 71,387 cases filed in U.S. Magistrate Courts against criminal defendants between Oct. 1, 2010 and Sept. 20, 2011 (FY 2011), according to the Attorneys’ latest statistical report. Among those cases, 57,310 (80 percent) occurred along the southwest border.

Despite the U.S. Attorneys’ data, DHS Secretary Napolitano echoed Garza’s claims that the border communities are among the safest in the country, testifying  before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 25: “Violent crime in U.S. border communities has also remained flat or fallen over the past decade, and statistics have shown that some of the safest communities in America are along the border.”

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