07/09/2010 03:25 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Dana Milbank Calls Premise For Arizona Immigration Law 'A Fallacy'

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank offers a solid debunk of Arizona-based illegal immigrant paranoia today, pointing out that "the entire premise of the Arizona immigration law is a fallacy."

Two months ago, the Arizona Republic published an exhaustive report that found that, according to statistics from the FBI and Arizona police agencies, crime in Arizona border towns has been "essentially flat for the past decade." For example, "In 2000, there were 23 rapes, robberies and murders in Nogales, Ariz. Last year, despite nearly a decade of population growth, there were 19 such crimes." The Pima County sheriff reported that "the border has never been more secure."

FBI statistics show violent crime rates in all of the border states are lower than they were a decade ago -- yet Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reports that the violence is "the worst I have ever seen." President Obama justifiably asserted last week that "the southern border is more secure today than any time in the past 20 years," yet Rush Limbaugh judged the president to be "fit for the psycho ward" on the basis of that remark.

Without question, illegal immigration and Mexican drug cartels are huge problems. And there is a real danger that the alarming and growing violence in Mexico could spread north. But beyond anecdotes -- the slaying of a rancher and the shooting of a sheriff's deputy -- there is no evidence that it has.

Milbank touches on something we've touched on before: John McCain's contention that Phoenix, Arizona is the number two capital for kidnapping in the world. This is utterly incorrect. But McCain's assertions have nevertheless evolved. Let's recall that when he was on Meet The Press, McCain put it like this:

DAVID GREGORY: Is immigration reform in a comprehensive way possible this year or in this term?

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Not until we get the border secure. By the way, on that issue, why is it that Phoenix, Arizona is the number two kidnapping capital of the world? Does that mean our border is safe? Of course not.

In his appearance last week on This Week, he added a qualifier:

MCCAIN: Because, as I said before, the level of violence on the border, the human smuggling, the fact that Phoenix, Arizona, is the number-two kidnapping capital of the world, according to media reports, the fact that a recent -- a ring recently was broken up that brought people across our border to Phoenix, Arizona, where people were -- drugs were distributed all over the country, as well as people, means that the situation has changed dramatically.

See what happened there? McCain is on safe ground when he says "according to media reports," because that's true. What goes unsaid, of course, is that these media reports are dead wrong, which is something that Politifact very deftly demonstrates with the help of Sgt. Tommy Thompson of the Phoenix police department:

"It was the media that said 'second in the world only to Mexico City,' and it was basically because we were open enough to say that we have an issue with kidnappings and not try to hide it," Thompson said.

In actuality, kidnappings in Phoenix are declining. But the police department's interest in the matter simply spurred the worst, most sensational instincts in the media, who have essentially played a round of The Telephone Game until they came up with this alarming, yet incorrect sound bite that McCain now cites.

Milbank: "Last year gave us death panels and granny killings, but compared with the nonsense justifying the immigration crackdown, the health-care debate was an evening at the Oxford Union Society."

Hey, and the "death panels" are back for a return engagement this summer! But I'm sure everyone will know better this time.

Headless bodies and other immigration tall tales in Arizona [Washington Post]

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