07/13/2010 05:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Arizona's Big Fat Lies

You hear it everywhere in the media - Arizona is descending into violent, illegal immigrant-caused chaos. Governor Jan Brewer, who has championed a sweeping anti-immigration law now being challenged in the courts by the Federal government, has called it a "crisis."
Americans in Arizona are apparently getting killed by the "illegals" like pheasants at a Dick Cheney shooting party. The Governor is now even claiming that are being found in the desert, as the Washington Post's Dana Milbank recently reported.
The border is "out of control", Brewer said, in a virtual state of warfare between the forces of good and the bands of roving migrants intent on spreading criminality from Mexico into our country.

Senator John McCain, in the midst of a reelection campaign where his right-wing credentials have been called into question, has said in various interviews that it is the worse violence he's ever seen in his home state and that dramatic actions must be taken.
While these stories are circulated by Arizona politicians seeking to justify the recently approved anti-Latino law - and mindlessly repeated by the media echo chamber - these claims are not in fact true.
You know, true as in real. True as in supported by empirical data. True as in an honest and objective assessment of reality.
The Arizona Republic reports that in fact, over the last decade, crime rates in Arizona have remained essentially unchanged even as the state's population has continued grow:

While the nation's illegal-immigrant population doubled from 1994 to 2004, according to federal records, the violent-crime rate declined 35 percent.

More recently, Arizona's violent-crime rate dropped from 512 incidents per 100,000 residents in 2005 to 447 incidents in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available.

In fact, these data support the case that crime rates have actually declined in Arizona.
So why the claims of rampant violence? When your agenda is driven by barely veiled racism - the Arizona anti-immigrant law's sponsor, State Senator Russell Pearce has been connected to various, ugly racist incidents - you will make up your own reality to support and disguise your actions and their true intent.
We should never forget the odious statements routinely made by Southern politicians to denigrate African-Americans in order to justify the Jim Crow system of laws that institutionalized racism across much of the American South until 1965.
What's happening in Arizona today is yet another use of the Big Lie strategy by politicians - in this case, the calumnies that undocumented migrants are the cause of a crime wave that must be stopped with police-state tactics. Hence the justification for Arizona's crackdown on immigration.
Here are some facts from the Arizona Republic investigation into the reality of the crime situation in Arizona:

FBI Uniform Crime Reports and statistics provided by police agencies, in fact, show that the crime rates in Nogales, Douglas, Yuma and other Arizona border towns have remained essentially flat for the past decade, even as drug-related violence has spiraled out of control on the other side of the international line. Statewide, rates of violent crime also are down...
...Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima County, said there always has been crime associated with smuggling in southern Arizona, but today's rhetoric does not seem to jibe with reality.
"This is a media-created event," Dupnik said. "I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse. Well, the fact of the matter is that the border has never been more secure."...
...Tucson Police Chief Roberto Villasenor said his town suffers from home invasions and kidnappings involving marijuana smugglers who are undoubtedly tied to Mexican organizations. However, he added, most of those committing the rip-offs are American citizens...

These data correlate to Politifact's findings that crime is actually down in Arizona - contrary to all the claims of Governor Jan Brewer and her cohorts:

From 2004 to 2008, data from Arizona's DPS shows a 23 percent drop in the overall crime rate, while the FBI's statistics on Arizona show a 19 percent drop. Although the FBI has not released all of the data on 2009, Arizona's statistics show the crime rate in 2009 dropped an additional 12 percent.

"Crime has been going down, overall, in Arizona," said Tony LaRose, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Tampa, but he noted it has been a national trend for the past almost three decades."

The trend holds even if you only measure violent crime, which James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University, said is the type of crime people think of when discussing crime and illegal immigrants. The violent crime rate fell 11 percent from 2004 to 2008 in Arizona.

While the anti-Latino lobby continues its propaganda war - with apparent success based on the data from a wide variety of polls that show widespread support for the Arizona police-state enforcement regime across the U.S. - reality is beginning to intrude on this vilification campaign.
If only the mainstream media would do its job and start to vigorously debunk these lies so that we can start a real debate on comprehensive immigration reform - and get to a solution.
Until then, these unprincipled politicians will continue to traffic in anti-Latino lies and smears while our country is stuck with an immigration system that does not in any way serve the national interest.