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UGA student’s murder sparks immigration debate in Georgia Legislature

The tragic death of a 22-year-old nursing student on the University of Georgia campus last week has ignited a heated discussion over immigration policy among Georgia lawmakers. The suspect in the killing, Jose Ibarra, is a Venezuelan national who entered the country illegally in 2022 and had previous run-ins with the law.

Gov. Kemp blames Biden administration for “failed policies”

Gov. Brian Kemp, who has been a vocal critic of President Joe Biden’s immigration stance, said the murder of Laken Riley was a direct result of the federal government’s inability to secure the southern border and enforce immigration laws. He accused the White House of ignoring the plight of Georgia and other states that are facing the consequences of illegal immigration.

“Look, the president could come out and change policies today,” Kemp said during a Monday appearance on Fox News. “He could simply signal with the bully pulpit of the White House, ‘local law enforcement, please, if you have these people that are here, that are illegal, that are non-citizens and they commit a crime in our country, please notify ICE.’ It’s as simple as that. ICE can work with local governments, with state governments to deal with these people and hopefully prevent situations like we saw with Laken.”

Kemp also announced earlier this month that he would deploy additional Georgia National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to assist with border security efforts.

UGA student’s murder sparks immigration debate in Georgia Legislature

Democrats accuse Republicans of politicizing tragedy

Democrats, on the other hand, denounced the Republican response to Riley’s death as “appalling” and “shameful”, saying they were exploiting a human tragedy for political gain. They argued that the GOP was responsible for blocking a comprehensive immigration reform bill in Congress that would have addressed border security and provided a pathway to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants.

“The majority saw her death as an opportunity to promote and defend Donald Trump,” said Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler. “Georgia’s Republicans rushed to blame President Biden for this murderous presence in Athens.”

Butler criticized congressional Republicans for walking away from a border bill with concessions to border security, arguing that leaving the bill on the table allows Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, to campaign on the issue.

“Our border crisis continues because Donald Trump has convinced one party that the only thing that matters is putting Donald Trump first, no matter the cost.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff also sought to blame Trump for what he called an immigration crisis.

“The situation at the southern border is a real crisis,” said Ossoff after paying a visit to the state House and Senate Monday and leading a moment of silence for Riley. “It is a crisis that was created by the previous administration’s deliberate sabotage of our immigration system.”

Lawmakers push for state-level immigration bills

The killing of Riley has also given new momentum to several immigration-related bills that are pending in the Georgia Legislature. One of them is House Bill 1105, also known as the Georgia Criminal Alien Track and Report Act, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Jesse Petrea. The bill would require the state Department of Corrections to track the immigration status and criminal offenses of inmates who are not U.S. citizens and penalize sheriffs who don’t coordinate with federal immigration authorities.

Petrea said his bill was inspired by the case of Ibarra, who had been arrested in New York and Georgia for various offenses but was never reported to ICE.

“This is a very simple bill that would have prevented this tragedy,” Petrea said. “It would have required that ICE be notified when this individual was arrested, and it would have required that ICE be notified when this individual was released from jail.”

Another bill that has gained traction is Senate Bill 443, sponsored by Republican state Sen. Bill Cowsert. The bill would create a new state agency, the Office of the Special Attorney General, that would have the power to investigate and prosecute cases involving illegal immigration, human trafficking, gang activity, and election fraud. The bill would also allow the governor to appoint special attorneys general who would report directly to him.

Cowsert said his bill was necessary to ensure that state laws are enforced and that local prosecutors are held accountable.

“We have seen instances where district attorneys have refused to prosecute certain crimes or have dismissed cases without explanation,” Cowsert said. “We need a mechanism to ensure that justice is served and that the rule of law is upheld in Georgia.”

Both bills are expected to face a vote in their respective chambers before Crossover Day, which is Thursday. If they pass, they will move to the other chamber for further consideration.


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