EL PASO, TEXAS – This dusty desert city sits directly across the Mexican border from what has been widely labeled as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Ciudad Juarez.
The bloody drug war has claimed an estimated 10,000 lives in Juarez in the last five years.
Yet this week, for the third year in a row, El Paso was ranked as the safest U.S. city with a population greater that 500,000 by CQ Press, which compiled FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano — who’s touring various border areas including El Paso this week — quickly seized upon the news to reiterate her established argument: The Obama administration’s beef-up-the-border measures have led to a significant reduction in illegal immigration.
Napolitano spoke with reporters after meeting with local and state law enforcement officials.
“Whenever people tell me the border is unsafe, I say ‘well, what about El Paso?’”
Likely not coincidentally, Napolitano was quick to point to the second-safest city in the list — San Diego, which sits just 20 miles from Tijuana, a Mexican border city that was mired in violence previously much like Juarez is now.
Illegal immigration and drug smuggling through both San Diego and El Paso have gone down significantly since both cities hosted major increased security operations in the 1990s.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), who represents the El Paso region in Washington, agreed with Napolitano — the area is safer now, he said.
“The fact is, the border has never been more secure — whether measured in the $18 billion spent annually on border security, the 22,000 boots on the ground, the record number of criminal deportations in the past four years, or the record-low immigrant apprehensions this past year.”
Yet Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, the country’s leading anti-illegal-immigration lobby group, said Napolitano is simply making herself and President Obama look good.
Besides, he said, the clampdown in cities like El Paso and San Diego have been long time in the making — many other areas along the border, like in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas, are like war zones where cartels have a dominating presence on both sides.
“Much of the border, away from these two large cities, remains out of control,” Mehlman told Fox News Latino.
“People who live elsewhere along the border report that their properties are regularly traversed by illegal border crossers and criminal cartels that move people and narcotics across the border,” Mehlman added.
But local leaders in El Paso said critics are misguided and that, just as it took a long time to secure the border there, pockets currently under less control will eventually come around.
It was an effort that involved federal agents counting on their local counterparts for help.
“All El Pasoans should be proud of this recognition as it is truly a reflection of the El Paso community,” said El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen.
The FBI declined to comment, since the agency does not put out the safest cities report nor does it endorse it.
“Individuals using these tabulations are cautioned against drawing conclusions by making direct comparisons between cities. Comparisons lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting communities and their residents,” the agency posted on its website.