Trump is Right – A Border Wall Worked for El Paso

During his recent State of the Union Address, President Donald Trump renewed his calls to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and strengthen border security. “The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country and considered one of our Nation’s most dangerous cities. Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities. Simply put, walls work and walls save lives. So let’s work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.”

Trump later repeated his claim during his recent visit to El Paso, noting that while there were 1,200 murders last year in Mexico’s border-town of Juarez, there were just 23 in bordering El Paso.

Trump is correct that El Paso is one of the safest cities in America (with the third lowest rate of violent crime), though his characterization that it was once one of the nation’s most dangerous is incorrect. A better phrasing of the argument would be that El Paso simply saw a significant decline in violent crime after the construction of a border. Trump is correct that bordering Juarez is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, though they’ve seen significant declines in violence in recent years.

The Fact Checkers Fire Back

NBC’s Jane Timm wrote that “Violent crime has been dropping in El Paso since its modern-day peak in 1993 and was at historic lows before a fence was authorized by Congress in 2006. Violent crime actually ticked up during the border fence’s construction and after its completion,” a claim completely debunked by the chart accompanying her article:

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CNN was even more dishonest and ran this graphic ignoring the implementation of Hold the Line in 1993 (more on that in a bit).

NBC must think we’re only supposed to pay attention to the 2009 border fence completion on the chart – but not the immense increase in border security that Operation Hold the Line brought. Hold the Line, also known as Operation Blockade, began in September 1993 and ran through 2001. The Operation was launched with 130 agents and 3 maintenance crews that were deployed to repair holes in the border (mostly chain) fence. A stronger border was built to replace the chain fence in 2008-2009. Over 400 Border Patrol agents were also deployed on the 20-mile stretch 24/7. According to a 1994 study by the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform on the effects of Hold the Line, it had an immediate effect in thwarting illegal crossings:

The average gross number of apprehensions along the entire U.S./Mexico border declined by nearly 12,000 per month from FY 1993 to FY 1994 (from about 66,300 to about 54,500 per month). Most of this decline occurred because of the sharp drop in the El Paso sector, where apprehensions dropped by more than 10,000 per month. The dramatic effects of Operation Hold the Line can also be seen in the steep drop evident for the post-Operation months. Thus, as measured in these terms, Operation Hold the Line clearly has reduced the number of linewatch apprehensions in the El Paso sector substantially and, by implication, the flow of illegal crossers into the United States.

And there’s no denying that the wall is still working as intended, as the following chart from Rep. Dan Crenshaw of apprehensions in El Paso proves:

Increased border security drastically reduced illegal crossings (and crime), but the fact checkers are ignoring all that and pretending that El Paso only beefed up border security in the form of a border wall.  The U.S. Border Patrol agreed that Hold the Line was a success early on because it inspired a similar effort in San Diego which reduced illegal entries 75% just a few years after being implemented in 1994.

Violent crime in El Paso was cut in half from the time Hold the Line began until the border was completed, though it must be emphasized this doesn’t mean that entire decline (or even most) was due to the prevention of illegal immigrant crimes.  Illegal immigrants are only a sliver of the population of El Paso (3%), so even a 100% drop in illegal immigrant crime wouldn’t appear that dramatic in a chart. I only mention this because I don’t want to oversell the wall’s benefits in El Paso, which undoubtedly worked in stopping illegal crossings.

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Unfortunately, until a full border is completed, there will always be cracks that illegals can slip through regardless of how well any stretches of border built so far perform. We know that 20-miles of border security and a wall worked in El Paso – only 1,400 miles to go.

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