Politicians say more federal troops are needed to fight rising violence. But government data obtained by The Associated Press claims it isn't so dangerous after all.
San Diego is one of four big border cities in America with the lowest rates of violent crime, according to an in-house Customs and Border Protection report. It shows that Border Patrol agents face far less danger than street cops in most U.S. cities.
The study shows 3 percent of Border Patrol agents and officers were assaulted last year, mostly when assailants threw rocks at them. That compares with 11 percent of police officers and sheriff's deputies assaulted during the same period, usually with guns or knives.
In addition, violent attacks against agents declined in 2009 along most of the border for the first time in seven years. So far this year assaults are slightly up, but data is incomplete.
"The border is safer now than it's ever been," said U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Lloyd Easterling.
He said one factor is that with fewer jobs available amid the U.S. recession, illegal immigration has dropped. And responding to security concerns after 9-11, the Border Patrol has doubled the number of agents in the region since 2004.
Nonetheless, border lawmakers and governors say their region is under siege and needs more troops.
"Violence in the vicinity of the U.S.-Mexico border continues to increase at an alarming rate. We believe that this violence represents a serious threat to the national security of the United States as well as a serious threat to U.S. citizens that live along the 1,969-mile long border," a dozen bipartisan members of Congress from border states wrote President Obama.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger spokesman Francisco Castillo said that while "we've seen some success," troops are needed "to provide more security along our borders."
Concerns about danger come, in part, from Mexico, where raging cartel violence has taken 23,000 lives in three years, often within view of the U.S. border. There's frequent talk of the potential for that violence to spread across the border, although so far it hasn't happened to any significant degree.