TEXAS TRIBUNE — Bernardo Tercero was a 20-year-old laborer in the United States illegally when he murdered a Houston high school teacher while robbing a dry cleaner. Though he’d been arrested twice before and thrown out of the country, he kept coming back.
Two months before gunning down a Dallas police officer, Juan Lizcano was arrested for driving drunk. He, too, was in the country illegally. Federal immigration officials apparently were not told of his arrest.
And Juan Carlos Alvarez lived in the country illegally for almost 10 years before participating in two drive-by shootings in Houston that left four people dead. Just four months earlier, an immigration judge had decided to let him stay in the country.
Of the 251 men and women on Texas death row, 12 committed their crimes while in the country illegally, according to an analysis of data obtained by The Texas Tribune. Their crimes span almost three decades and five presidential administrations — two Democrats and three Republicans — and their victims include old and young, children, husbands, wives and parents.
Whether federal immigration officials attempted to remove these 12 men — or knew of their existence — is difficult to discern. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials declined to release immigration records for nine of the 12 inmates, citing a concern for their privacy. It did agree to release records for Tercero, Lizcano and Alvarez.
Reviews of trial transcripts, court records and other documents tell a dozen stories of smaller crimes and missed connections ultimately leading to 18 deaths on Texas soil at the hands of men able to enter the country easily, and stay with little challenge to their presence.