The perception that many Americans have due to the illegal immigration debate is that the Texas-Mexico border is a lawless place, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Many Rio Grande Valley residents say they frequently get phone calls from friends and relatives elsewhere in the country asking whether they are 'okay' or whether they have been a victim of violent crime, presumably committed by an undocumented immigrant.
But new FBI figures released by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) show the exact opposite is true. The border cities of El Paso, Laredo, and Brownsville are, in fact, among the safest communities in the U.S.A.
Cuellar compares crime in Laredo with crime in Washington DC. He points out that in Washington DC last year, there were 22 murders per 100,000 people. In Laredo, there were four murders per 100,000 people.
"I am not saying that we don't have problems on the border, but it is not the way people think when they call it a 'war zone'," he said.
Cuellar says whatever illegal immigrants and asylum seekers are doing once they enter Texas, it is obvious they are not committing crimes.
He says the perception of the Valley being filled with violent crime has been very damaging to the region's ability to attract new employers.
"They have to have something to attack," he says of political critics, "and unfortunately they have been attacking the border."
He says it also makes cities like Brownsville and McAllen struggle harder to find critical workers like teachers, because many have bought into the myth that the Valley is a dangerous place.
"Bottom line is that the border areas are among the safest places in the entire country, largely due to the large number of federal, state, and local law enforcement who are here."
He says the misunderstanding of cartel violence in Mexico and in northern Mexico also frequently colors the perception of the Rio Grande Valley. The reality is that cartels are in the business of making money, and they know that committing violence in the United States would be a certain way to find their operations shut down, so they avoid any criminal activity in the U.S.