Steve Chapman

Arizona legislators are fed up with being terrorized by illegal immigrants, and they have passed a law to get tough. Under the measure, passed this week and sent to the governor, police would have to stop and question anyone they suspect of being in this country without legal authorization.

The bill passed after the fatal shooting of Robert Krentz, a 58-year-old rancher whose killer apparently entered illegally from Mexico. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu says police are also under siege: "We've had numerous officers that have been killed by illegal immigrants in Arizona."

Even Sen. John McCain, once a supporter of immigration reform, has called for the immediate placement of 3,000 National Guard soldiers along the border.

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It's no surprise that Arizonans resent the recent influx of unauthorized foreigners, some of them criminals. But there is less here than meets the eye.

The state has an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants. But contrary to myth, they have not brought an epidemic of murder and mayhem with them. Surprise of surprises, the state has gotten safer.

Over the last decade, the violent crime rate has dropped by 19 percent, while property crime is down by 20 percent. Crime has also declined in the rest of the country, but not as fast as in Arizona.

Babeu's claim about police killings came as news to me. When I called his office to get a list of victims, I learned there has been only one since the beginning of 2008 -- deeply regrettable, but not exactly a trend.

Truth is, illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native Americans. Most come here to work, and in their desire to stay, they are generally afraid to do anything that might draw the attention of armed people wearing badges.

El Paso, Texas, is next door to the exceptionally violent Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and easily accessible to illegal entry. Yet it is one of the safest cities in the United States.

In 2007, scholars Ruben Rumbaut and Walter Ewing investigated the issue for the Immigration Policy Center and concluded that "if immigrants suddenly disappeared and the country became immigrant-free (and illegal-immigrant free), crime rates would likely increase."

That's not to say Arizonans don't have a right to be upset when Mexicans trespass across private land on a regular basis. But you could solve that problem by making it easier for them to immigrate legally.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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