Texas to Begin Deporting Foreign Convicts

Texas parole officials can soon use a new state law to begin deporting some of the 11,000 foreign citizens who are incarcerated in state prisons.

The Austin American-Statesman reports the deportations could save taxpayers millions of dollars.

The state law, which takes effect Sept. 1, allows the parole board to approve convicts for parole on the condition that they are deported to their home country. The law covers foreigners convicted of both violent and nonviolent crimes.

During a meeting Wednesday in Austin, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles was assured by federal immigration officials that foreign citizens who are deported -- most probably back to Mexico -- will actually be sent to their home countries and not turned loose in Texas.

Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement assured state officials convicts not deported will be handed back to state prison officials.

"That's nothing we can't take care of," Cari Cephas-Kimbrough, an ICE assistant field office director in Houston, told the board.

Parole officials are worried about how to implement the new law because in recent years, several hundred foreign-born felons were paroled and released to federal officials for deportation but were instead allowed to remain in Texas on parole at the cost of state taxpayers.

No one could say Wednesday how many parole-to-deport cases might be approved, or when they would start.

"I think several hundred would be a good start, as soon as they can," said state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, who sponsored the legislation last spring.

Bryan Collier, deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said about 11,500 of Texas' 156,000 state prisoners are not U.S. citizens, and about 6,000 of those currently have a deportation order pending.

Texas lawmakers have debated such a deportation program for nearly 20 years, with several unsuccessful attempts at legislation.

Lawmakers say the state could save as much as $100 million annually if as many as 5,000 foreigners were removed from state prisons and deported. The state spends about $3 billion a year operating the state's 112 prisons and related programs.

If all 11,000 foreign convicts were removed from Texas' prisons, the state could save more than $213 million.

According to prison system statistics, some 6,727 of the 11,395 Texas convicts who claimed foreign citizenship in the summer of 2010 were incarcerated for violent crimes, 955 for property crimes, 1,667 for drug crimes and 2,046 for "other" crimes including escape, weapons charges, drunken driving and minor sex offenses. More than 8,500 of the foreign convicts were Mexican citizens.