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Immigrants’ Higher Homicide Risk Cited

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Immigrants are more likely to be victims of homicide than people born in the United States, UCLA public health researchers said in a study released Monday.

The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that over a 23-year period ending in 1992, immigrants were the victims in about 23% of the homicides in California, even though they represented only 17% of the population.

Sifting through mountains of data, the researchers focused on 15- to 34-year-olds, the age group that accounts for three-quarters of all killings, and found that the risk of being a homicide victim varied across ethnic groups.

Non-Latino white immigrants, most of whom emigrate from European countries, were more than twice as likely to fall victim to homicide than U.S.-born whites, the study said.

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Latino immigrants faced a 25% greater risk of being slaying victims, the researchers found.

The study, believed to be the first to show that immigrants face a higher risk of homicide than U.S.-born citizens, did not analyze the causes of the killings. The researchers could not say who the perpetrators were or whether the homicides occurred during the commission of another crime, were gang-related or due to some other cause.

The study is part of the broad recognition by health care workers that deaths and injuries caused by violence are as much a public health problem as various forms of disease and as such may be attacked and prevented like other diseases.

The lead author of the study, Susan B. Sorenson, a public health epidemiologist at UCLA, said the findings “demonstrate the urgent need to establish violence prevention programs geared specifically toward immigrant groups.”

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Sorenson, who teaches at the university’s School of Public Health, said the study challenges the notion that the United States is a safe haven for immigrants. Recognition of that through awareness campaigns could prevent deaths, she said.

Sorenson and her team analyzed the deaths of 65,000 homicide victims in California from 1970 through 1992 and found that nearly 15,000 were immigrants.

Immigrants and non-immigrants alike were killed by similar means, with handguns accounting for 72% of the immigrant deaths and 68% of the deaths for U.S.-born people. Stabbings were involved in about 20% of the deaths for both groups.

Experts said that one possible cause for the higher homicide rate among immigrants is that many live in areas marked by high rates of poverty, where residents in general are at a greater risk.

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“Just living in these areas puts them at greater risk,” said Paul Juarez, an associate professor at the Charles R. Drew University Medical School in Los Angeles who has studied violence for more than 10 years.

Juarez and Sorenson helped found the Violence Prevention Coalition of Los Angeles. Members of the group are pushing for more controls on the sales and distribution of handguns and for programs that warn students and others about the risk of violence and teach them how to resolve conflicts without violence.

As for the issue of preventing killings among immigrants, Sorenson said, churches, temples, social service organizations and the Immigration and Naturalization Service could help spread warnings about the risks of migrating to the United States.

“We need to find ways to intervene early to keep immigrants from becoming victims of violence,” Sorenson said.

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