If you lived hundreds of miles away and listened only to the sound bites leading to passage of Senate Bill 1070, it would be easy to imagine some parts of Arizona as every bit as lawless as fabled Tombstone, circa 1881.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer sounded alarms this spring with talk of mayhem and "headless bodies" found by local law enforcement in the desert. In U.S. Sen. John McCain's successful bid for re-election, he described the violence as "the worst I have ever seen."
Leaders have cited the perception of out-of-control violence spilling into the United States to justify the need for many things this year - from SB 1070, to President Barack Obama's decision in May to send 1,200 troops to the border, to Congress' decision in August to spend another $600 million on border enforcement.
Authorities say Arizona's sparsely populated border is home to the most drug seizures in the country and more arrests of border crossers than any other state. But crime along the entire border is now as low as it has been in years, police and U.S. Customs officials say.
"You are not going to be a victim of violent crime here," said Jeffrey Kirkham, police chief in Nogales, Ariz. "We haven't had murder here in five to eight years."
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