Gov. Rick Perry repeated a familiar claim at the GOP debate Wednesday at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Texas' border cities, he said, are unsafe because the federal government has failed to secure the U.S.-Mexican border.
"For the president of the United States to go to El Paso, Texas, and say that the border is safer than it's ever been, either he has some of the poorest intel of a president in the history of this country or he was an abject liar to the American people," Perry said. "It is not safe on that border."
Perry was referring to a statement President Obama made in El Paso during a March visit to the city. While Perry didn't single out El Paso as being unsafe, the implication was clear.
So, is Perry correct?
There's no question that drug-related violence on the Mexican side of the border is rampant. But, in general, that violence has not migrated north. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report, El Paso, with an estimated population of 625,000, had just five homicides in 2010. Across the border in Ciudad Juárez, the number of homicides exceeded 3,000.
By comparison, the state capital of Austin, with a population of about 796,000, had 38 homicides in 2010. In fact, according to the FBI's data, the number of 2010 homicides in the border cities of Brownsville (seven), Laredo (nine) and McAllen (five) combined didn’t exceed Austin’s total.
For El Paso, 2011 has been more deadly. According to Det. Michael Baranyay, with El Paso Police Department Public Affairs, this year's tally is at 15. He said none of the homicides was directly linked to the violence in Ciudad Juárez, however.
Last November, CQ Press, an independent research organization, issued its latest "Crime City Rankings 2010-2011" and named El Paso the safest city in the United States among cities with a population more than 500,000. The rankings are based on the FBI's crime statistics, although some criminologists and mayors of other cities with worse rankings have criticized the CQ Press study's methodology.
The FBI also warns users of its data to take into account several factors before making assessments of cities and counties based on the crime statistics alone.
“These rough rankings provide no insight into the numerous variables that mold crime in a particular town, city, county, state, or region,” the agency states. “Consequently, they lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents.”
An extensive July 2011 analysis of crime data from Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico by USA Today found that "violent crime rates were on average lower in cities within 30, 50 and 100 miles of the border — the distances used to fit various definitions of the 'border region.'" Border cities in Texas were no exception.
Perry's comments have angered El Paso's lawmakers and business leaders who have consistently disputed what they claim is political fear-mongering.
"It's incredibly frustrating to have the governor of our state use the national stage to denigrate our community," El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar told the El Paso Times after the debate. "We are not unsafe. Every time he says that, it hurts us."
We have a request for comment into the governor's office and will update this post when we hear back.