The House of Representatives passes an immigration bill named after murdered Georgia student Laken Riley

Mychael Schnell, Rebecca Beitsch, and The Hill

2 weeks ago

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) arrives at a House Republican Conference roundtable to discuss the border on Wednesday, January 31, 2024.

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday that would require the detention of all migrants found to have committed burglary or theft. House Republicans named this bill after a Georgia student who police say was killed by a man who crossed the border illegally.

The measure – called the Laken Riley Act – was approved by the chamber by a vote of 251-170, with 37 Democrats voting “yes” along with all Republicans present. It was the latest move by Republican lawmakers to shine a spotlight on the situation at the southern border, which has emerged as a central issue in the 2024 campaign cycle and a biggest vulnerability for President Biden heading into the general election.

Republicans have used Riley's death to condemn the Biden administration.

“Innocent Americans, from Laken Riley in Georgia to the 14-year-old rape victim of an illegal immigrant in our home state of Louisiana,” Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) said Wednesday. “They were all victims of those who.” The Biden administration has laid off people in our country. He releases them to your state.”

Jose Ibarra, a 26-year-old Venezuelan citizen who authorities said entered the country illegally, was charged with murder in Riley's death.

The House approved the legislation just hours before Biden was scheduled to give his State of the Union address, which Republicans hoped would draw attention to Riley's death.

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) wrote a letter to the president this week asking him to include the Georgia student's name during his remarks, and Rep. Mike Collins (R-Ga.) said his guest seat for Thursday's speech will be empty “in honor of Laken Riley and all Americans who have lost their lives at the hands of an illegal foreign criminal.” Several Republicans are bringing immigration-focused guests to the speech for a spotlight to focus on the important topic.

Meanwhile, Democrats accuse Republicans of exploiting Riley's death in the heated debate over immigration and border security.

“Unfortunately, instead of coming together to express our sadness over Laken’s tragic loss, the majority appears to be exploiting her death for another partisan political ploy,” Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said on the House floor Thursday.

“Instead of approaching this tragic event thoughtfully, Republicans appear to have simply thrown together language from existing, unrelated bills that scapegoats immigrants to score cheap political points in an election year while doing nothing to address the situation.” “This approach is fundamentally dubious.”

Studies have consistently shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens.

The bill would represent a dramatic change in detention policy. Those arrested for nonviolent crimes were not prioritized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

While the bill requires the detention of people arrested for “burglary, larceny, larceny or shoplifting,” it is not clear whether that would have prevented Ibarra's release in this case.

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. It is unclear whether he applied for asylum.

Ibarra was later arrested in Georgia after being charged with shoplifting and failing to show up for his court date.

Immigration is at the top of polls and is the issue voters are most concerned about ahead of November's presidential election. In a Gallup poll released last month, 28 percent of respondents said immigration was the biggest problem facing the country today, at the highest rate. The state was behind immigration at 20 percent and the economy in general at 12 percent.

The importance of immigration in the election campaign was highlighted last month when Rep. Tom Suozzi (DN.Y.) won a special election to fill the seat vacated by former Rep. George Santos (RN.Y.). ), who was expelled from Congress in December.

Republicans have stepped up their criticism of Biden and his handling of the situation at the southern border in recent months, criticizing Democrats across the country for engaging in what they call a crisis. But Suozzi turned the tide on Republicans, calling for legislation to address the flow of migrants and supporting the Senate's bipartisan agreement on border security.

The strategy was successful, helping Suozzi to a nearly 8-point victory in the district, flipping the seat from red to blue and solidifying his return to the lower chamber.

Johnson accused Suozzi of running his campaign “like a Republican,” citing his messaging on immigration. However, Suozzi dismissed that opinion after his swearing-in ceremony, citing immigration.

“Like every patriot of the greatest country on earth, I am willing to compromise to solve problems like chaos at the border,” he said.