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Data Shows Almost 5 Percent of State Prisoners Are Undocumented Immigrants

Just how many undocumented criminals does Texas have? The Texas Tribune found out.
Flickr/Thomas Hawk (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Just how many undocumented criminals does Texas have? The Texas Tribune found out.

From Texas Standard:

In 2015 the Texas legislature passed an $800 million, two-year plan to  add nearly 300 state troopers to help patrol along the Texas-Mexico border. Many cited fears that undocumented immigrants were bringing crime and cartel violence into the state.

Fears aside, the Texas Tribune wanted to look at the actual data of undocumented criminals in the state. It’s part of their  Bordering on Insecurity series, a yearlong look at border security and immigration issues.


The group of reporters working on the series went back and forth with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to obtain state prison data through public information requests. the Tribune wanted to know just how many undocumented immigrants U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had requested to be turned over so they could be deported upon their release. The stats don’t include numbers for county or local jails.

Becca Aaronson, reporter with the  Texas Tribune, says her team found  about 4.6 percent of Texas prisoners were undocumented. According to the Pew Research Center, 6 percent of the state’s general population is made up of undocumented immigrants.

“It's not that everyone who is here who is undocumented is bad,” Aaronson says. “There's fewer people in our prisons that are undocumented relative to the general population. But law enforcement is missing opportunities to catch the bad actors and deport them."

For example, the Tribune found that  at least 12 inmates on Texas’ death row were undocumented, out of 251 people on death row.

"For each of these cases, there were missed connections in which some of these people could have been apprehended and deported from the country before they committed the crimes that landed them on death row,” Aaronson says. “That's the message that we wanted to get across.”

Aaronson says the next part of the investigation will look at  border corruption.

"If you have a lot of border security and law enforcement – even if you have just one or two who are corrupt – you can let in a lot of bad things into the country,” she says.

Copyright 2020 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.

Alain Stephens heads up investigative reports for Texas Standard. A graduate of the University of North Texas and a veteran of two of the U.S. armed forces, Alain served both in the Coast Guard and the Air Force. His work has won accolades for exposing how the state pays those with disabilities below minimum wage, as well as the fast-tracking of juveniles to adult prisons. Contact Alain at, or (512) 232-6173.