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As he promotes his border wall, President Donald Trump holds up El Paso, Texas, as a successful test case.
"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," Trump said during his Feb. 5 State of the Union address. "Now, immediately upon its building, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of the safest cities in our country. Simply put, walls work and walls save lives."
That wasn’t the first time Trump hailed El Paso’s barrier as a solution to crime. And it might not be the last: Trump plans to be in El Paso on Feb. 11 for a campaign rally.
But the claim is not true.
To start, El Paso has not been considered one of the nation’s most dangerous cities. Its violent crime rate has been significantly below the national average compared to cities of similar size. Even more, the violent crime rate went up — not down, as Trump claimed — after the construction of a border fence in the region.
An FBI tool allows users to view violent crime rates reported by police agencies, from 1985 to 2014. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program classifies four offenses as violent crime: murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.
Every year from 1985 to 2014, El Paso’s violent crime rate was significantly lower than the average for all localities of similar size. (Note: Not all departments reported data every year.)
El Paso falls under the 500,000 through 999,999 population group (24 cities total). Other cities in that group were Tucson, Ariz., Boston, and Fort Worth, Texas.
Immigration and crime researchers told us that El Paso historically has not been regarded as one of the most dangerous cities in the United States.
"El Paso has been considered one of the safest cities, even when El Paso's sister city of Juárez (Mexico) has been one of the most violent in the world," said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor of government at George Mason University, whose expertise includes Mexico-U.S. relations.
The White House did not respond to PolitiFact’s questions regarding the specific years or barrier on which Trump based his claim. It’s possible that Trump echoed remarks from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
Paxton at a Jan. 10 border security roundtable told Trump that a barrier over 100 miles long was placed in El Paso, and then the crime rate became one of the lowest in the nation. "I think it was under the Bush administration," Paxton told Trump.
In a news release, Paxton’s office later said he was talking about a 131-mile fence completed in 2010. Texas does have about 131 miles of pedestrian fencing. But not all of it is in El Paso, and it’s been added over several periods.
Former President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which called for the construction of barriers at the southwest border, including the El Paso region. About 42 miles of fencing were built in the El Paso Sector between August 2008 and July 2009, said a report from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
It’s unclear which specific fencing finished in 2010, as Paxton’s office said. Still, Trump’s boast of an immediate crime drop doesn’t hold up.
In 2007, the year before fence construction started, El Paso’s violent crime rate was 417.8 offenses per 100,000 population. From 2007 to 2010, the rate increased 5.5 percent.
From 2007 to 2011, the rate increased 3.2 percent.
It also increased from 2006 to 2011, by 9.6 percent.
Even though the violent crime rate went up after the fencing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the fence caused the spike, said Charis E. Kubrin, a criminologist at the University of California-Irvine.
Likewise, if the violent crime rate had gone down, it’s improper to say it was just because of the fencing, she said.
"If you really want to make a conclusion in one direction or another, you have to do a study that isolates the impact of a wall on crime, controlling for other factors," Kubrin said.
Empirical data suggests no significant difference in the average violent crime rate in border and non-border metropolitan areas, said a 2016 border security report from the Congressional Research Service.
"The specific impact of border enforcement on border-area crime is unknown, however, because available data cannot separate the influence of border enforcement from other factors," the report said.
Trump said, "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, immediately upon its building, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of the safest cities in our country."
Crime data shows that El Paso has not been one of the most dangerous cities in the nation.
From 1985 to 2014, El Paso’s violent crime rate was significantly lower than the average for cities of comparable size.
Border authorities added fencing in the El Paso region in the late 2000s. In the immediate years before and after construction, the violent crime rate went up, contrary to Trump’s claim.
Trump’s statement is inaccurate. We rate it False.
C-SPAN, 2019 State of the Union Address, Feb. 5, 2019
Factcheck.org, Trump Wrong About Wall Effect in El Paso, Jan. 18, 2019
FBI, ucrdatatool.gov, Crime - Large Local Agencies, Crime reported by El Paso Police Dept, Texas, 1985-2014
Phone interview, Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor of government at George Mason University, Feb. 7, 2019
Texas Attorney General Office, AG Paxton Joins President Trump in McAllen at Roundtable on Border Security, Jan. 10, 2019
ElPasoTimes.com, Did construction of a border fence cut down on crime rates in El Paso?, Jan. 10, 2019
Phone interview, Tony Payan, director of the Mexico Center at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, Feb. 7, 2019
Phone interview, Charis E. Kubrin, a criminologist at the University of California-Irvine, Feb. 7, 2019
Congressional Research Service, Border Security: Immigration Enforcement Between Ports of Entry, April 19, 2016
Data current as of Aug. 2, 2017; BP Southwest Border Apps Fencing FY17; ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP SUMMARY REPORT FOR THE CONSTRUCTION, OPERATION, AND MAINTENANCE OF TACTICAL INFRASTRUCTURE PEDESTRIAN FENCE SEGMENTS K-2 THROUGH K-5 U.S. Border Patrol El Paso Sector, Texas, U.S. Department of Homeland Security U.S. Customs and Border Protection U.S. Border Patrol, July 2012
Congress.gov, H.R.6061 - Secure Fence Act of 2006
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