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Student's murder fueling immigration debate among Georgia lawmakers

Georgia's governor is open to state-level immigration initiatives, and Republicans in the state intend to back any new measures that arise.
Posted at 8:32 PM, Feb 26, 2024

An undocumented Venezuelan migrant faces murder charges for the death of a nursing student in Georgia, and amid Laken Hope Riley's mourning, politicians spar over immigration policies.

Riley's death is being cited in the country’s debate over borders and immigration, as authorities say the suspect charged with the death, 26-year-old Antonio Ibarra, is not a U.S. citizen.

In remarks Monday before the State Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp blamed the woman’s death on what he called failed policies on the federal level and what he says “is an unwillingness by the Biden administration to secure the southern border.”

Meanwhile, Democratic State Senator Jason Esteves of Atlanta countered on X saying "Laken Riley’s family deserves space to grieve without being used for cheap political points. Those who bring up border security should take that up with Trump, who recently whipped Republicans in DC into shelving a bipartisan border security bill."

Governor Kemp said on Monday that this murder shows that the situation at the southern border presents a clear and present danger to communities.

"This community, all of Georgia, and the entire country have been rocked by this inexcusable and avoidable murder. We need justice on a national level to prevent this type of thing from happening again,” said Kemp.

Earlier this month, Kemp emphasized his willingness to curb immigration by pledging to send additional Georgia National Guard soldiers to aid Texas Governor Greg Abbott's border control.  

Kemp is reportedly open to state-level immigration initiatives, and Georgia Republicans, including Speaker Jon Burns and Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy, plan to support any new immigration measures that come as a result of Riley's killing, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

But when it comes to immigrants committing crimes the statistics are important to note. 

A report by the Department of Justice that included a look at migration and crime found that between 1998 and 2018, some 64% of all federal arrests were of non-U.S. citizens. However, most of the arrests—90%—were for immigration-related offenses. Drilling down on the numbers, non-U.S. citizens accounted for about a quarter of federal drug arrests.

Police say the body of 22-year-old Riley was found on the UGA campus in Athens, Georgia, on Thursday after she did not return from a run. Authorities said she did not know the suspect.

"Laken was an amazing overall person. Her love for the Lord was exemplified in every aspect of her life," the family said in a statement.