El Paso, Tx., sounds like it should be one of the scariest cities in America, with a high poverty rate, a low median income and the likelihood that a significant percentage of its foreign-born population is living there illegally. El Paso sits just over the Rio Grande from one of the most violent cities in the western hemisphere, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, home to a staggering 2,500 homicides in the last 18 months alone. Here’s the surprise, says Reason magazine: There were just 18 murders in El Paso last year, in a city of 736,000 people.
Baltimore, with 637,000 residents, had 234 killings. Since the beginning of 2008, there were nearly as many El Pasoans murdered while visiting Juarez (20) than there were murdered in their home town (23). El Paso is among the safest big cities in America. For the better part of the last decade, only Honolulu has had a lower violent crime rate (El Paso slipped to third last year, behind New York). Criminologists say El Paso isn’t safe despite its high proportion of immigrants, it’s safe because of them. “If you want to find a safe city, first determine the size of the immigrant population,” says Jack Levin of Northeastern University. “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.”