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By W. Gardner Selby July 29, 2014

Unsubstantiated: Greg Abbott attributes 3,000 murders to immigrants here illegally

Greg Abbott, supportive of Gov. Rick Perry’s decision to place up to 1,000 National Guard troops near the Texas-Mexico border, declared the driving issue is public safety.

Abbott, the Texas attorney general and 2014 Republican gubernatorial nominee, told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News that some of the "worst of the worst" criminals are coming 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 in the July 22, 2014 interview. "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."

His mention of 3,000 murders, brought to our attention by a reader, aligned with a more specific Perry claim we recently found factually unsupported and ridiculous.

But Perry’s source for the figure, the Texas Department of Public Safety, hadn’t said that.

By email, Abbott spokeswoman Lauren Bean told us the attorney general drew his murder count from the DPS web page, "Texas Criminal Alien Arrest Data," separately relied upon by Perry. A criminal alien is a non-citizen convicted of a crime.

The DPS page states: "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," the agency says. (After we started looking into Perry’s claim, the entry was tweaked to specify that all the charges occurred in Texas.)

Homicide charges account for a sliver of all the criminal charges tabulated by the agency, according to a pie chart on the web page:

Source: Web page, "Texas Criminal Alien Arrest Data," Texas Department of Public Safety (accessed July 21, 2014)

The last line on the page says "these are minimum figures as these numbers include only those aliens whose fingerprints were already in the federal system when they were booked and it does not necessarily include all those who are incarcerated in federal prison."

We asked to interview the appropriate agency official about the figures on the web page. By email, DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said: "We don’t have any additional information to add to the website provided."

Outside criminologists

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In checking Perry’s claim, we’d asked criminologists recommended to us by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York how to interpret the DPS-presented information.

Notably, the DPS web page doesn’t specify when the 3,070 homicide charges in the criminal histories of all the "alien" individuals arrested in Texas since October 2008 accumulated.

By phone, Michael Walker, an adjunct John Jay professor and an expert in how the FBI gathers crime statistics, and Ramiro Martinez, Jr., a Northeastern University professor, each suggested it’s highly unlikely unauthorized residents committed that many homicides in recent years in Texas.

Drawing on FBI Uniform Crime Statistics for Texas posted online by the DPS, Walker calculated that from 2008 through 2012, there were 3,903 persons arrested on homicide charges in the state. Walker said it’s not logical that residents in the state without legal permission accounted for most of the same deaths. He conceded, too, he wasn’t able to roll in homicide charges from 2013 and 2014; he didn’t see that data online nor were we successful in eliciting figures from DPS.

Martinez offered up his own analysis, which started by averaging the FBI’s tally of a little more than 1,100 homicides in Texas in 2011 and 2012 and extrapolating that over six years to reach an estimated total of nearly 6,700 homicides over most of the period analyzed by DPS. By email, Martinez said that if one assumed unauthorized residents were responsible for 3,000 of all Texas homicides, that would hold them accountable for 46 percent of the estimated total. That, he said, "makes no sense." Martinez said in a follow-up email: "It just boggles the imagination that level of ‘aliens’ were involved to that extent over time and nobody noticed."

The criminologists noted another weakness; the DPS presentation mixes recent homicide charges with those that might have been leveled decades ago. Also, they noted, the agency tallied arrests only, not homicide convictions.

Martinez also raised an eyebrow at the mingling of criminal charges against legally authorized U.S. residents and individuals in the country without permission, risking conclusions irrelevant to border security today. By the state's approach, he said, it’s possible a homicide charge in the tally involves someone who reached the U.S. from Cuba in 1962 who was later charged with and/or committed a homicide. If so, he said, that charge would bear no relevance to criminal actions by people lately crossing the Rio Grande.

Our ruling

Abbott told Van Susteren "we’ve had about 3,000 murders" in connection with lax border security.

This declaration, it turned out, isn’t substantiated by the cited state presentation which instead indicates 203,000-plus immigrants jailed in Texas in recent years had together accumulated 3,070 homicide charges (not convictions) in their lives. These individuals included people living here with legal permission and people here without authorization.

Significantly, the presentation doesn’t show the homicides were committed by non-citizens living here without permission. Also, it’s silent on Abbott’s conclusion the immigrants charged with homicide all entered the country due to the border being easy to cross.

Absent factual confirmation, the attorney general’s claim strikes us as incorrect and ridiculous. Pants on Fire!

PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.

Click here for more on the six PolitiFact ratings and how we select facts to check.

Our Sources

Truth-O-Meter article, "Rick Perry claim about 3,000 homicides by illegal immigrants not supported by state figures," PolitiFact Texas, July 23, 2014

Emails, Lauren Bean, deputy communications director, Texas Attorney General’s Office, July 24-25, 2014

Web page, "Texas Criminal Alien Arrest Data," Texas Department of Public Safety (accessed July 21, 2014)

Emails, Tom Vinger, press secretary, Texas Department of Public Safety, Media and Communications Office, July 22, 2014

Telephone interview, Michael Walker, adjunct professor, Department of Public Management and the Department of Law & Police Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Chicago, July 22, 2014

Emails, Ramiro Martinez, Jr. PhD, Northeastern University, professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, July 22, 2014

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More by W. Gardner Selby

Unsubstantiated: Greg Abbott attributes 3,000 murders to immigrants here illegally

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