Georgia House of Representatives advances immigration bill after Laken Riley murder

The Georgia House of Representatives is considering a bill that would force sheriffs to report criminal illegal immigrants to federal law enforcement after an illegal immigrant with a criminal record was charged with murder in the slaying of 22-year-old Laken Riley in a sanctuary city.

Democrats attacked Republicans for “politicizing a tragedy,” but a Republican who helped draft HB 1105, titled The Georgia Criminal Alien Track and Report Act of 2024, told The Daily Signal that he supports the legislation I don't think it's political at all.

“Setting policy in the face of tragedy to ensure that something like this never happens again is not, in my opinion, political,” said Republican Houston Gaines, who represents Athens, the Georgia college town where the alleged murder took place. “This should be a bipartisan message.”

HB 1105 was advanced Tuesday in the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. Gaines said he expects a vote in the Georgia House of Representatives on Thursday.

Georgia law (Section 42-4-14) already requires prison guards to verify an inmate's immigration status and report to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's sub-agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. HB 1105 would impose penalties for failure to report criminal illegal immigrants to the government, require local law enforcement agencies to comply with all ICE detention orders, and require law enforcement agencies to publicly report the number of inmates in jails and their immigration status .

State Rep. Jesse Petrea, the bill's Republican sponsor, told The Daily Signal that 19 Georgia sheriffs said in an informal survey last year by the Georgia Sheriffs' Association that they would not report illegal immigrants to federal homeland security officials.

Terry Norris, the association's executive director, told The Daily Signal that every sheriff who responded to a recent survey he began Friday said he or she would report illegal immigrants to ICE. A total of 111 of 159 sheriffs said they would follow the law, while 48 did not respond. Norris testified last Wednesday: “We don't know how many sheriffs don't report to ICE, Homeland Security.”

“Georgia sheriffs have had 18 years to follow the law,” Petrea said. “There needs to be a meaningful punishment for not following the law.”

Petrea told The Daily Signal that he wrote the bill long before Riley's murder, but he said the murder highlighted the need for the bill.

“To be clear, to those who suggest that we are taking advantage of Ms. Riley's murder in this matter, my bill was drafted last year and discussed with the Sheriffs' Association, which recognizes that many sheriffs in Georgia are not complying hold [Georgia] Law 42-4-14,” he said in a written statement Tuesday. “In fact, it was heard twice in committee before her assassination.”

Sheet Riley

Riley, a nursing student at Augusta University, disappeared last Thursday after running on the University of Georgia campus in Athens. Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, faces multiple murder and assault charges in connection with Riley's death. Authorities said there was no evidence he knew Riley.

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Ibarra entered the United States illegally in El Paso, Texas, on September 8, 2022 with his wife and their son and requested asylum. Authorities released him “for further processing,” the New York Post reported.

Police in New York City arrested Ibarra on August 31 and charged him with endangering a child, but released him before immigration officials could ask police to take him into custody. Athens police arrested Ibarra in October for shoplifting; In December, a judge issued an arrest warrant when he failed to appear in court.

ICE confirmed yesterday what we already knew: Jose Ibarra was in the country illegally. He was also arrested in New York. What the media didn't report was that he was reported for shoplifting in Athens in October – and there was a warrant for his arrest for failing to appear in court

— Houston Gaines (@houstongaines) February 26, 2024

Athens, Georgia is a sanctuary city.

Petrea, the sponsor of HB 1105, said he blames the Biden administration for Riley's death.

“You have to remember that’s how he got here,” Petrea said in a phone call with The Daily Signal on Tuesday. “They put him on a bus and sent him inland.”

“I can’t tell you if ICE would have responded in any way if they had reported him,” the Republican lawmaker added. “Since Biden took power, deportations of criminal aliens have decreased by 67%.”

He noted that the Georgia Department of Corrections reported that 182 illegal immigrants who are murderers are being held in state prisons with ICE detainees.

“I can’t say it would have changed the outcome of this terrible tragedy,” Petrea said of HB 1105, but it would help in similar cases.

Gaines, who was born and raised in Athens, called Riley's killing “the most tragic thing” and cited “failures in the system” that made it possible.

“The southern border is an absolute disaster with millions of people coming into the country who no one knows who they are,” he said.

Republicans in the US House of Representatives are demanding more information from DHS about the Ibarra case.

How the system works

Norris, the executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, said Laken Riley's death “shows the importance of our federal immigration laws and how weak enforcement of those laws is.”

“These tragedies heighten our awareness of the inadequacies at the level of federal immigration,” he added.

Norris explained exactly how the system works when an illegal immigrant is deported.

“When someone is booked into a county jail, they fingerprint them, and that's the best way to find out who that person is,” he noted. “This printout goes to the Georgia Crime Information Center and the National Crime Information Center. It goes to the organization known as the Law Enforcement Support Group – that's the group at Homeland Security that pushes back: 'This person is here illegally.'”

“The sheriff would receive that notification and all he does is notify the federal authorities, namely ICE, that this person has been charged,” Norris said.

“When that fingerprint is taken and given to the government, they often get nothing back because the government only knows that person is in the country if they have had an encounter with the government on the ground,” he added.

In such cases, he said, law enforcement checks a detainee's immigration status and then reports it to ICE. The federal agency can then respond with an arrest warrant and instruct law enforcement to detain the suspect.

“Unless there is an arrest warrant signed by a federal judge, these individuals will be held like everyone else,” Norris said. “You can still form a bond on these lower-level offenses.”

Amendments to the bill

Petrea's original version of HB 1105 included harsher penalties for sheriffs who violate the law by reporting criminal aliens to federal officials. It would have classified any crime as an “offense of a grave and grave nature.”

The committee amended the bill Tuesday, keeping that offense as a second offense but making the penalty for the first offense merely a “violation of oath of office,” subject to a state fine.

DA King, founder of an immigration group in the Peach State called the Dustin Inman Society, expressed support for Petrea's original version and attacked the newer version.

“The first offense would result in a fine assessed to the sheriff’s office from state or federal funds administered by the state,” King told The Daily Signal. “But most of the funding for the sheriff’s office comes from the county.”

A penalty would only occur “if there is ever a compliance audit, which has not happened in the last 18 years,” King noted. “The criminal sanction will be shifted to the second offense, which is unlikely as the likelihood of a first offense is low.”

Before the bill was amended, King said: “The Dustin Inman Society strongly supports the bill and we are extremely grateful to its sponsor, Rep. Jesse Petrea, for his courageous commitment to crack down on criminal aliens in Georgia, where we host more people. “Illegals than Arizona.”

“We hope that observers across the country will pay attention to this matter here and watch to see whether Governor Brian Kemp recognizes that the recent tragedy may not have occurred if our existing laws had been enforced,” King concluded.

King said he would not support the updated version of the bill. “A lot of it is kabuki theater, which will not bring about significant change due to the current lack of enforcement,” he argued.

The committee also added measures from a bill Gaines introduced on Monday, HB 1415. The new version of HB 1105 requires law enforcement to comply with ICE detention requests. It also requires law enforcement agencies to apply for memorandums of understanding with federal immigration authorities, such as: B. ICE's Delegation of Immigration Enforcement Section 287(g), which authorizes ICE to delegate authority to conduct certain enforcement actions to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Petrea, who wrote the original version of the bill, told The Daily Signal that he supports the new version.

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