Border residents' perceptions of crime and security in El Paso, Texas
Research has continued to show the overall safety of the U.S. border region contrary to the widespread belief about the insecurity of the U.S.-Mexico border and frequent claims for the need to secure the border in order to prevent the spread of violence into the rest of the country. Rarely do we ask how border residents feel about safety and crime, which could shed significant light on the claims that the border is an insecure warzone posing a threat to the entire country. While calls to secure national borders are common, outsiders' perceptions of an unsafe border are not supported by official crime rates and statistics, Border Patrol apprehensions, or the everyday experiences of people in American cities along the U.S.-Mexico border. This paper investigates the perception of crime and security, as expressed by the residents of El Paso, Texas, a large city located along the U.S.-Mexico border and directly across from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Data come from a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded survey that asked 919 residents about their perceptions of crime, sense of security and safety in their neighborhood and the city in general. The results show that the overwhelming majority of border city residents feel safe and that those who are undocumented and raised in El Paso are the most likely to report feeling safe or very safe. We also find that the foreign-born population had a statistically significant lower felony conviction rate than those who were U.S.-born, an important qualifier in discussions over immigration and its connection with violence and crime. Contrary to sensationalized claims about border violence, residents of El Paso do not display any of the sense of insecurity experienced in neighboring Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. We present hypotheses about possible causes for these low levels of violence in the U.S.-side of the border and discuss the dissonance between the reality on the border and perception outside of the border region.