Skip to Content

Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards 2009

Dr. Ramiro Martinez, Jr.
BA Criminal Justice 1985
MS Sociology 1987
Associate Professor of Criminal Justice
Florida International University

Dr, Ramiro Martinez, Jr.
Dr. Ramiro Martinez, Jr.


Remarks by Dr. Ann Marie Ellis
Dean, College of Liberal Arts

 Dr. Ramiro Martinez Jr. is a leading criminologist in the study of violent crime in ethnic and immigrant communities, and his findings may surprise you.

Through painstaking examination of homicide records in cities with large Latino populations, he found that while Latinos often live in poverty, their communities have relatively low levels of homicide. He has also found that an increased level of immigration does not cause crime. It may even reduce it, as it has in many places across the country.

Dr. Martinez was born and raised an only child in a working-class neighborhood in San Antonio. Growing up, he noticed that, while there was some crime and substance use in his own neighborhood, there was more of it in the barrio where his grandmother lived. He wanted to know why crime and substance abuse were more concentrated in some San Antonio neighborhoods than in others, so he set out to gain the skills to help him find the answers.

When Ramiro entered Texas State, the idea of studying ethnic minorities such as Latinos as separate socio-economic groups was still relatively new. Because he was interested in the relationship between Latinos and crime, he majored in Criminal Justice, but it was his minor in Sociology, and in particular a course with Dr. Susan Day that gave him a sociological perspective—a perspective that helped him to reinterpret in exciting ways what he’d learned in other settings.

Ramiro found Sociology intellectually satisfying, and he stayed at Texas State to work on a master’s degree in Sociology. He studied with Dr. David Jorgensen. Dr. Jorgensen opened doors to a fascinating world of well-documented literature in Sociology and directed Ramiro’s thesis, a study of whether black and Latino students at Texas State were assimilated into campus activities.

Armed with a master’s degree, Ramiro headed off to Ohio State University for a PhD in Sociology. He remembers the culture shock of being at a Big 10 research university in the Midwest: it was overwhelming … far from home, and very cold … and many of his fellow students had impressive credentials from Ivy League schools. Undaunted, Ramiro worked hard and received prestigious fellowships and a dissertation award. In all, he found Ohio State a great place to study and to launch his career as a university professor.

After graduation, Ramiro joined the faculty at the University of Delaware, and from there joined the faculty of Florida International University in Miami. His wife, Dr. Amy Nielsen, is a sociologist at the University of Miami.

Ramiro’s scholarly record is impressive: he has published two well-received books and three dozen articles and book chapters—some with his wife—on homicide in Latino and immigrant communities in major cities across the country. He has studied cities such as San Diego and El Paso and shown that, while they are heavily populated by Mexican immigrants, violent crime has fallen significantly in recent years, and these cities rank among the safest in the U.S. Almost without exception, the homicide rate for Hispanics in the cities that he’s studied is lower than for other groups, even though their poverty rate is very high—perhaps because immigrants are often ambitious and hardworking and maintain strong, stable families.

The raw data for these findings have existed in police departments for a long time, but it took a researcher with Dr. Martinez’s talent and dedication to bring them to the attention of America’s policy makers, and recently his findings were presented to the U.S. Senate—at a Judiciary Committee hearing on the need for immigration reform.

Ramiro is currently completing a multi-year grant to study drug use and homicide among Latinos, and he’s beginning a new study of the relationships between HIV infection, drug overdose, and homicide in Miami. He is a member of national research groups based at Harvard and Carnegie Mellon University, and he has received awards for distinguished contributions to research from the American Sociological Association and the American Society of Criminology.

And, despite the demands of his impressive research agenda, Ramiro makes time for “giving back”: as an undergraduate at Texas State, Ramiro received a scholarship from the National Hispanic Scholarship Foundation. He now represents the Foundation as a mentor to students. In recognition of his accomplishments, the Texas State Alumni Association recently honored Ramiro with its Alumni Achievement Award.

Dr. Ramiro Martinez Jr. has made major contributions to our understanding of ourselves as a nation by focusing on segments of the population that historically have been overlooked and misunderstood. I believe he will continue to make important contributions throughout his career. I am very happy to add to his accolades tonight by presenting him with the College of Liberal Arts’ highest honor, the Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.