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MEXICO - Many U.S.-Mexico Border Area Residents see it as Safe

By Kent Paterson
As the US House of Representatives approved a $600 million border security bill August 10, polemics over the safety of the US-Mexico border intensified. In language reminiscent of Iraq and Afghanistan, New Mexico Democratic Congressman Harry Teague praised the passage of the 2010 Emergency Border Security Supplemental Appropriation Bill (6080) as a concrete gesture of support for the first-term representative's "border security surge."

Highlights of the bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate [and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on August 13], include funding for drones, ATF, DEA and FBI border personnel, and a 1,000 person Border Patrol "strike force" slated for deployment in "most-needed areas," according to Teague's office. The appropriation also earmarks $10 million for investigators to stop corruption in the Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection.

"The boost in border security funding is critical in taking a serious step in cracking down on border violence and protecting New Mexican families," Teague said in a statement.

Facing a tough election challenge from former Republican Representative Steve Pearce, who is campaigning to win his old seat back, the freshman lawmaker called on a recessed Senate to reconvene and take swift action to get the money rolling to the border. Teague represents New Mexico's Second Congressional District, a vast area which encompasses counties on the US-Mexico border.

Teague is urging President Barack Obama to organize a White House summit to "address the border violence crisis" and make sure violence does not "spillover into the United States."

Parallel to the House action, a network of border human rights advocates, immigration reform activists and elected officials questioned the narrative of a dangerous US border.

Commissioned by the El Paso-based Border Network for Human Rights (BNHR), the results of a poll of 1,222 border residents reported the overwhelming majority of respondents—67 percent—said they felt safe living in their communities. An even higher number, 86.5 percent, reported feeling safe while walking or driving in their neighborhoods.

Conducted in mid-July by the Reuel Group, the poll surveyed residents of San Diego, El Centro, Yuma, Nogales, Douglas, Las Cruces, Brownsville, El Paso, Laredo, and McAllen.

"Politicians creating border policies need to talk to the people who actually live at the border instead of listening to pundits and opportunistic politicians set to score political points by fanning the perception that the border is out of control," said Fernando Garcia, BNHR executive director, in a telephonic press conference.

"It is time to rethink our border policy by increasing the quality and accountability of border enforcement, not the quantity of armed agents and soldiers on our southern border."

Among other speakers joining Garcia was El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles. The law enforcement official said people in his community were most concerned about graffiti and stray dogs.

"Extreme violence is just not happening here and we need to revisit how resources are expanded on the border," Wiles added. "That's the message to send the administration."

Although so-called narco-violence ravages Mexican border cities, very little of the "spill-over" violence frequently talked about in the media has actually hit the US side. El Paso, for example, registered one murder from the beginning of the year through early August.

Frontera NorteSur (FNS)
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
New Mexico State University
Las Cruces, New Mexico
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