Greg Abbott, Rick Perry air unconfirmed claims about 3,000 murders by unauthorized immigrants

Greg Abbott referred to people crossing the border and about 3,000 murders in this July 22, 2014, interview with Greta Van Susteren of Fox News.

The Republican governor of Texas and the Republican lawyer seeking to succeed him each attributed 3,000 homicides to people jailed in Texas who were living in the United States without legal authorization.

Aides to Gov. Rick Perry and Greg Abbott, the state attorney general and GOP gubernatorial nominee, each told us the Texas Department of Public Safety had the goods behind the respective claims.

We concluded otherwise.

DPS web page

Here’s what the DPS says on an undated web page: "From October 2008 through July 1, 2014, Texas has identified a total of 203,685 unique criminal alien defendants booked into Texas county jails." The federal government defines a "criminal alien" as a non-citizen convicted of a crime.

The agency’s online post continues: "From October 2008 through July 1, 2014, Texas has identified a total of 203,685 unique criminal alien defendants booked into Texas county jails.  Over their criminal careers, these defendants are responsible for at least 642,564 individual criminal charges in Texas, mostly consisting of Class B misdemeanors or higher, including 3,070 homicides and 7,964 sexual assaults as seen on the chart below." In drafting this article, we noticed the post was revised after we initially looked it over, to clarify that the charges were all made in Texas, an agency spokesman emailed.

Fact checks of Perry, Abbott

Perry initially touched off the Truth-O-Meter in a July 17 interview by referring to "over 3,000 homicides by illegal aliens over the course of the last six years." After reviewing the DPS web page and failing to elicit elaboration from Perry or the DPS, we rated his statement as Pants on Fire. Our read of the state web page was that since 2008 in Texas, more than 200,000 arrested immigrants -- foreign nationals living here with or without legal permission -- had among them accumulated 3,070 homicide charges (not convictions) in their lives. From another vantage point, criminologists told us that for Perry's six-year statement to hold up, illegal immigrants would have to have committed nearly half of the state’s homicides since 2008; we found no such data.

On July 22, Abbott told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News that some of the "worst of the worst" criminals are sneaking across the Rio Grande. "We’ve had women and children in the state of Texas who have been sexually assaulted by the people who have come across the border. We’ve had about 3,000 murders," Abbott said. "It is a responsibility of a government to keep their people safe. The federal government has the responsibility of securing our border; they’re not doing it, so the state of Texas will do it." (See that interview in the video to the right.)

Again we concluded the DPS web page doesn’t demonstrate individuals in the country without legal permission committed any specfic number of homicides.

Earlier, we asked a DPS spokesman who we might interview for more detail about its count of homicide charges. Tom Vinger replied by email: "We don’t have any additional information to add to the website provided."

Known unknowns

Some unknowns in connection with the DPS web post:

--How many of the homicide charges resulted in convictions;

--When the homicides occurred and whether, for instance, they took place in recent years and in connection with border security weaknesses;

--What proportion of the homicide charges were levelled against non-citizens living here with legal permission and/or non-citizens living in the country without authorization.

--The degree to which U.S. citizens booked into Texas county jails in the study period had (all together) accumulated criminal charges like the ones DPS tallied for non-citizens.

See the Perry and Abbott fact checks, along with others related to the Texas-Mexico border, to the right.

What else?