Pubdate: Mon, 10 May 2010
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Column: The Americas
Copyright: 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Mary Anastasia O'Grady


The Vicious Violence the Border States Are Experiencing Is Not 
Committed by Migrant Laborers.

The organized-crime epidemic in Latin America, spawned by a U.S. drug 
policy more than four decades in the making, seems to be leeching 
into American cities. Powerful underworld networks supplying gringo 
drug users are becoming increasingly bold about expanding their 
businesses. In 2008, U.S. officials said that Mexican drug cartels 
were serving their customers in 195 American cities.

The violence is only a fraction of what Mexico, Guatemala and 
Colombia live with everyday. Yet it is notable. Kidnapping rates in 
Phoenix, for example, are through the roof and some spectacular 
murders targeting law enforcement have also grabbed headlines.

While this has been happening, would-be busboys, roofers and lawn 
mowers from Mexico and Central America have been using the Arizona 
desert to get to the U.S. because legal paths are closed and they want work.

Technically both groups are law breakers. But it is a tragic mistake 
to paint them with the same brush. Doing so could inflict serious 
economic and moral damage on the most successful nation of immigrants 
in human history. Blaming the migrants for the increase in organized 
crime also has another downside: While it may make people feel good 
about legality for a time, it will do nothing to stem the growth of 
gangster violence in the U.S. - which is the greater threat to 
national security.

It's tempting to couch the organized crime problem as an issue of 
sovereignty (i.e., Mexicans are invading!) but that ignores the role 
of the demand for drugs. The solution has to start with acknowledging 
that drug trafficking through Arizona - a key concern of citizens of 
that state - is the product of a complex set of federal policy failures.

It's hard to fault Arizonans for what seems to be nothing more than a 
desire to enforce the rule of law. That's the idea behind the 
controversial new legislation allowing police to ask for 
documentation from individuals stopped for other reasons. As one 
Tucson local told me last week, there is a "feeling of insecurity 
because of the migration of so many illegals." Other things that seem 
to have sparked cries to "do something" include crowded emergency 
rooms, migrant trespassing, and a very human reaction to a feeling of 
overwhelming change in a short period of time.

Most Americans understand intuitively that immigrants are an asset. 
The migrants who come north are ambitious. Many travel far, trudging 
through the desert for days or accepting high risks with human 
traffickers. They come in search of a paying job, a chance to build a 
business or simply hope for a better future. Their journey is the 
very essence of the work ethic.

It is a sorry fact of American politics that Arizona's migrant 
problem was created by the feds. For much of the last decade the U.S. 
has needed young, hungry labor and Latin America has had an excess 
supply of it. But Washington worthies have refused to devise a legal 
immigration plan that could respond to this market reality. Congress 
preferred instead to wall off the California border.

Anyone remotely familiar with immigrant aspirations could have 
predicted that the masses yearning to be free would find another way. 
They did, through the desert and into Arizona. The concentrated 
migrant flow through that one state is a major reason that Arizonans 
are reacting.

It is important, though, to distinguish the drug-related violence 
that rates headlines from the overall pattern of immigrant behavior. 
Mexican migrants have not provoked a crime wave in Arizona, as some 
politicians and pundits argue.

Citing Justice Department statistics, Dan Griswold, a Cato Institute 
scholar who has written extensively on immigration, reported last 
month on his blog that "the crime rate in Arizona in 2008 was the 
lowest it has been in four decades. In the past decade, as the number 
of illegal immigrants in the state grew rapidly, the violent crime 
rate dropped by 23 percent, the property crime rate by 28 percent." 
Mr. Griswold also says "census data show that immigrants are actually 
less likely to commit crimes than their native-born counterparts."

This doesn't mean that drug cartels are not upending the peace. On a 
visit to the Journal last year, Texas Gov. Rick Perry worried about 
drug-related gang violence in his state's big cities. In a March 
letter to the editor of the Journal, El Paso City Council member Beto 
O'Rourke described the violence across the border in Juarez and 
expressed concern about the high costs for both cities which are an 
economically integrated region.

The war on the supply of drugs was launched more than 40 years ago 
because the U.S. found that prohibition failed to contain Americans' 
appetite for drugs. Thousands of Latins have since died for the 
cause. In 2008, according to the National Survey of Drug Use and 
Health, 36 million Americans had used illicit drugs in the past year. 
Rounding up low-skilled Mexican workers and walling off the entire 
border is not likely to solve the problem.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake