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Almost seventy years ago, Paul Taylor (1931) presented a compelling strategy of collecting city-level data in an effort to advance knowledge of crime patterns and causation among the Mexican-origin population in the United States. The most obvious manifestation of this pioneering research was the emphasis at that time on criminal activities among Mexicans (Latinos) in several cities around the Southwestern United States and a focus on areas with prominent foreign-born populations, especially along the Mexican border. Some early scholars blamed immigrant Latinos for the growing levels of urban crime and the social dislocation wrought by the influx of newcomers into urban areas with a heavy Mexican-origin population, a notion influenced by the classic Chicago School of urban sociology (Shaw and McKay, 1942). Others noted that Latino crime, regardless of immigrant status, was in line with population size and that criminal involvement for both victims and offenders varied considerably across cities and was shaped by crime type, age, sex, and poverty, among other factors (Taylor, 1931).
Despite the appearance of Latinos in pioneering crime studies, research on Latino involvement in urban violence remained dormant for several decades (see Martinez and Lee, 1999, for a review of the literature). That this ethnic group received little attention is understandable given the emphasis on crime among blacks and whites in Midwest and East Coast cities by proponents of the social disorganization perspective (Short, 1997). Most of these efforts emphasized the linkages between community disruption and high rates of serious crime in areas populated by white immigrants and black migrants in search of manufacturing jobs, in turn, paying little attention to Latinos in the Southwest (see Hawkins, 1999). However, given the current diversity within the Latino population and recent immigration patterns, in particular to Sunbelt cities, revisiting the circumstances surrounding Latino homicide should provide a fuller comprehension of violence in the United States and clarify the utility of the social disorganizat ion framework.
We extend violent crime research by focusing on where Latinos live, and speculate on how immigration might increase or decrease crime in urban areas with large and stable ethnic minority communities that serve as settlements for large numbers of newcomers. (1) Immigrant Latinos are undoubtedly influencing urban crime but they are also potential buffers in stabilizing extremely impoverished areas (see Hagan and Palloni, 1998). The issue is then to explore whether immigration is a relevant force in contemporary research on city-level crime, especially for Latinos and if so, why it is an important influence under certain circumstances. More specifically, do Latinos have consistently high rates of violence across cities, age, and gender, and does the victim/offender relationship vary for Latino groups?
We present one of the first post-World War II urban homicide studies conducted in two predominantly Latino cities: Miami and El Paso, both large and diverse cities with a prominent immigrant and native-born Latino population that varies by country of origin and timing of settlement. The purpose of this article is to build upon the historical groundwork developed by Taylor (1931), which makes immigration a salient component in probing the importance of ethnicity, not just race, on crime and violence. Using a unique data set gathered directly from respective homicide investigations units, Latino homicide victim and event characteristics are examined. Special attention is directed to the victim and offender relationship (e.g., acquaintance, family, intimate, stranger, unknown) to assess whether Latino victims' age and gender vary with all types of homicide or if these associations remain constant. We also examine a host of event characteristics (gun use, offender ethnicity) to gain a fuller understanding of the conditions that shape Latino killings.
Research on Latinos has been in short supply since the 1931 report on crime and the foreign-born (National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, 1931). The most prominent complication is limited official data collection, most notably that not reported in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Uniform Crime Reports (UCR). Scholars note that the FBI focuses on black and white crime as reflected by the absence of "Hispanics" or "Latinos" in compiling the UCR (Hawkins, 1999). What little we know about Latino violence is primarily descriptive and avoids examining the circumstances surrounding Latino killings, especially in areas dominated by Latinos.
The exclusion of Latinos is even more surprising given that early research on crime and violence recognized Latinos as a distinct group. The previously mentioned 1931 report found that Latino involvement in homicide was a relatively rare event despite the popular image of violent crime saturating the Mexican border. While the findings of the commission relied on less-than-fully-precise Latino population estimates, they encouraged more research to understand the wide diversity of Latino engagement in crime in different locations.
This issue has been largely ignored in the criminological literature, although some studies have included homicides involving Latinos. Henry A. Bullock (1955) found that Latino homicide involvement in Houston, Texas, was linked to many of the neighborhood-level economic conditions originally identified by Shaw and McKay (1942). Several later studies of homicide in Houston have also …