The Georgia House of Representatives passes a bill requiring police to help arrest immigrants after the killing of a student

ATLANTA (AP) — Republicans in the Georgia House of Representatives are backing a bill that would require every eligible police and sheriff's department to help identify undocumented immigrants, arrest them and detain them for deportation.

The House voted 97-74 in favor of House Bill 1105 on Thursday after police accused a Venezuelan man of beating a nursing student to death on the University of Georgia campus. The measure will move to the state Senate for further debate.

Jose Ibarra was arrested Friday on murder and assault charges in connection with Thursday's death of 22-year-old Laken Riley. Ibarra, 26, is a Venezuelan citizen who entered the United States illegally in 2022, according to immigration authorities. It is unclear whether he has applied for asylum.

Riley studied nursing at Augusta University's Athens campus after beginning her college career at the University of Georgia's Athens campus. She was found dead on February 22 after a roommate reported that she had not returned from a morning run in a wooded area.

The bill would also set new requirements for how prison officials should check with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement whether people are known to be in the country illegally. Republican state Rep. Jesse Petrea of ​​Savannah said a clause is needed to enforce existing state law that requires sheriffs to check with ICE about people who do not appear to be American citizens.

“Setting policy in the face of an unspeakable tragedy is not policy,” said Republican Houston Gaines of Athens. “The right thing to do is to make sure something like this never happens again.”

Sheriffs deny they are breaking the law to check with ICE. The bill would make sheriffs who fail to check immigration status guilty of a misdemeanor. The bill would also deny state funding to prisons and sheriffs that don't cooperate.

Democrats warned that the bill would result in people being detained for extended periods of time, separate parents born elsewhere from children born in the U.S. and fuel distrust of police in immigrant communities. They said there is a false narrative that immigrants bring crime, pointing to studies that show immigrants are less likely to be arrested.

“We want justice for what happened to Laken Riley. We don’t want violent people, whether they’re here legally or not, on the streets,” said Rep. Esther Panitch, a Democrat from Sandy Springs. “But this bill is not enough. This bill will not close our borders. It won’t make us safer, and it won’t make women safer.”

The bill would move Georgia closer to states with stricter immigration laws like Texas, which starting in March will allow police to arrest migrants entering the state illegally and give local judges the power to expel them from the country.

Georgia itself had already passed a strict anti-immigration law in 2011, but later withdrew parts of it. Rep. Pedro Marin, a Duluth Democrat and the House's longest-serving Latino member, said he has seen people capitalize on fear of foreigners before.

“I have seen time and time again that ambitious representatives and senators use fear as a strategy to gain and retain elected office,” Marin said.

But Rep. Rey Martinez, a Latino Republican from Loganville, said his party only targets criminals.

“We are not after the immigrants. Were not. We’re not after them,” Martinez said. “What we're looking for are these people who are committing crimes. That’s what we’re looking for.”

Petrea added sharp criticism of Ibarra: “He said he was here for asylum. He was here for assault.”

The commitment to assist ICE would require eligible cities and counties to apply for a so-called 287(g) agreement to allow local officials to enforce immigration law. It's unclear how many would be accepted — President Joe Biden's administration has de-emphasized the program.

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center counted six of 159 Georgia counties with 287(g) agreements with ICE in July. Five of them are just in prison. Oconee County, a suburb of Athens, issues arrest warrants for immigration violations and deportation orders. State agencies also cooperate with ICE.

According to the center, at least three counties in Georgia have stopped cooperating with ICE at the jail, including two large suburban Atlanta counties where it was a major election issue — Gwinnett County and Cobb County.

“This program has torn apart families, children and families,” said House Democratic Leader Sam Park of Lawrenceville.

But Petrea said local help is needed. “Failure to cooperate with federal immigration authorities endangers public safety and makes a mockery of our nation’s immigration laws,” he said.

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