"If you want to find a safe city, first determine the size of the immigrant population," says Jack Levin, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Massachusetts. "If the immigrant community represents a large proportion of the population, you're likely in one of the country's safer cities. San Diego, Laredo, El Paso—these cities are teeming with immigrants, and they're some of the safest places in the country." ...Indeed, Balko argues that:
What's happening with Latinos is true of most immigrant groups throughout U.S. history. "Overall, immigrants have a stake in this country, and they recognize it," Northeastern University's Levin says. "They're really an exceptional sort of American. They come here having left their family and friends back home. They come at some cost to themselves in terms of security and social relationships. They are extremely success-oriented, and adjust very well to the competitive circumstances in the United States." Economists Kristin Butcher and Anne Morrison Piehl argue that the very process of migration tends to select for people with a low potential for criminality.
An immigrant group's propensity for criminality may be partly determined by how they're received in their new country.What do you think? Does its receptive attitude toward immigrants explain El Paso's impressive recent record on crime, or is it something else? If so, what? I've often wondered that myself and this is as plausible an explanation as any I've heard.
"Look at Arab-Americans in the Midwest, especially in the Detroit area," Levin says. "The U.S. and Canada have traditionally been very willing to welcome and integrate them. They're a success story, with high average incomes and very little crime. That's not the case in Europe. Countries like France and Germany are openly hostile to Arabs. They marginalize them. And they've seen waves of crime and rioting."
El Paso may be a concentrated affirmation of that theory. In 2007 the Washington Post reported on city leaders' wariness of anti-immigration policies coming out of Washington. The city went to court (and lost) in an effort to prevent construction of the border fence within its boundaries, and local officials have resisted federal efforts to enlist local police for immigration enforcement, arguing that it would make illegals less likely to cooperate with police. "Most people in Washington really don't understand life on the border," El Paso Mayor John Cook told the Post. "They don't understand our philosophy here that the border joins us together, it doesn't separate us."
Other mayors could learn something from Cook. El Paso's embrace of its immigrants might be a big reason why the low-income border town has remained one of the safest places in the country.