The death of a Georgia student becomes a touchstone in the immigration dispute

The death of a Georgia student is at the center of Washington's arguments over immigration, as former President Trump and his allies pivot to the issue to attack President Biden and Democrats across the border.

Trump, whose top concern is border security, has repeatedly criticized Biden's policies surrounding the death of 22-year-old Laken Riley.

Riley, a nursing student at Augusta University's Athens campus, was found dead last Thursday after her roommate reported that she had not returned from a run in the wooded area of ​​the University of Georgia campus. A 26-year-old Venezuelan citizen named Jose Ibarra was arrested and charged with murder in connection with her death.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Ibarra entered the country illegally from Mexico near El Paso, Texas, in September 2022 and was released for further processing after his detention.

“We have a new category of migrant crime, and it will be more serious than violent crime and criminality as we know it,” Trump said last week during his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Democrats have criticized Republicans for linking Riley's death to Biden's handling of the border, arguing that the issues of immigration and crime should not be mixed.

A series of papers from the Cato Institute found that immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, are less likely to murder than U.S.-born Americans.

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) said a “feeling of outrage” is normal after violent crimes but should not change overall policy.

“I think the most important thing we should focus on is that no single case should shape our entire immigration policy, which has so many different facets, including economic decisions about which workers to admit and how to create wealth in America ” she said during a press conference interview on CNN's “Erin Burnett OutFront” on Monday.

The White House and Democrats also heavily criticized Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) and other Republicans for opposing a bipartisan Senate bill to tighten border security.

Republicans who opposed that compromise argued it didn't go far enough, but the White House is relying on the argument that by politicizing the border law, Trump and Republicans have actually prevented the administration from taking steps to tighten security at the border to do.

Trump and Republicans see political advantage in highlighting Riley's death as a symbol of what they see as chaos at the border.

Both Trump and Biden visited locations on the border on Thursday, but the former president noted that he had called Riley's parents the day before and directly blamed Biden for Ibarra's entry into the country.

“I spoke to her parents yesterday. They are incredible people who are incredibly devastated,” he said.

Numerous GOP officials, from Trump allies like Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) to GOP officials who have clashed with the former president, such as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, have linked the student's death to theirs own immigration policy is associated with being too lenient.

Kemp, who has clashed with Trump over the governor's opposition to overturning the state's 2020 election results, argued that the country is having a “nightmare” with “mass migration.”

“This is inexcusable as the Biden administration has made no real effort to address and manage this crisis as it continues to ignore the calls for meaningful policy changes that governors like myself have been making for well over two years,” he said .

The Georgia case offers Trump a dramatic story to point to, even as investigations into exactly what happened are ongoing.

“Any time you can attach a face, particularly the face of a child or a young person, to a policy, whether it's good or bad, that's going to have a much bigger impact,” said Georgia-based Republican strategist Jay Williams. “And the more personal you can make it, the more effective it will be.”

GOP strategist Brady Smith said the incident was an “extremely effective” attack on Republicans.

“It will be the turning point where this will be the one that stands out and everything else will be reminiscent of Laken Riley,” he said.

Polls have shown that immigration has overtaken the economy in the minds of voters. A Gallup poll released Tuesday found it ranked as the most important for the first time since 2019.

Biden is trying to go on the offensive at the border himself. That's one of the reasons he went to the border on Thursday, and it's reflected in the White House's attacks on Johnson over the border law.

A senior Democratic official argued that the claim that Biden was responsible for the killing was “absurd.” That agent said Kemp was more responsible for the incident than the governor, who oversees the state's population.

“I didn’t know Joe Biden was a patrolman in Athens, Georgia,” the agent said. “Why is it that something always happens to illegal immigrants for which they are not responsible? Why don’t they bear responsibility for crimes?”

Republicans have often argued that allowing migrants to continue across the border only increases the likelihood of crime or possibly an attack on U.S. soil.

However, several studies have found that people entering the country illegally are no more likely to commit other crimes than U.S. citizens.

Cato analyzed numbers from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) because that agency tracks the immigration status of people arrested and convicted of crimes in the state. DPS numbers from 2015 to 2019 consistently show a lower murder rate among undocumented immigrants.

“Few people are murderers, and illegal immigrants are statistically less likely to be murderers. However, some illegal immigrants actually commit murder, and this statistical fact is no comfort to the victims and their families. More importantly, no one should expect the statistics to provide comfort to people affected by violent crime,” wrote Alex Nowrasteh, author of the Cato papers.

Williams, the GOP strategist, said the specific details of the case further bolstered Republicans' argument since Ibarra was arrested in New York City several months ago.

ICE said Ibarra was charged with injury to a child under 17 and a motor vehicle license violation, but New York officials released him before immigration agents could arrest him.

Democrats have cited Rep. Tom Suozzi's victory in the special election for New York's 3rd Congressional District last month as an example of how they can still win races tied to the immigration issue.

Suozzi left a Democratic seat this month after successfully campaigning to make his position clear on immigration and challenging his Republican opponent over her opposition to the Senate's bipartisan border bill, which Trump also opposed.

“We need to do what Tom Suozzi did, which is address the problem head on,” the employee said.

Brett Samuels contributed.

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