The killing of a student in Athens over the weekend gives rise to legislation requiring Georgia sheriffs to cooperate with ICE

A U.S. House committee has made progress on legislation targeting immigrants in federal custody following the killing of 22-year-old nursing student Laken Riley at the University of Georgia.

The suspect in Riley's death, 26-year-old Jose Ibarra, was in the country illegally, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and was previously arrested in New York and charged with shoplifting in Athens, according to police documents.

Savannah Republican Rep. Jesse Petrea's House Bill 1105 aims to require sheriffs to report when an inmate is a citizen of another country. It passed a House committee on Tuesday and is expected to have a full vote in the House before the end of the month – the deadline by which bills can be easily passed from one chamber to the other.

Petrea filed his bill late last month, but Riley's killing has sparked renewed urgency for Republican lawmakers to pass immigration legislation this year.

Rep. Jesse Petrea. Ross Williams/Georgia recorder

“The statute is clear,” he said. “Today, every sheriff in this state is required to report to ICE when an alien is in their jail. This is current law. The problem is that in many cases sheriffs simply don't follow this law. Now some of them are deliberately not following the law.”

In an open letter to Petrea, former Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway said his home county would benefit from the proposed law.

“Perhaps nowhere in the state is your bill more needed than here in Gwinnett County, where the current sheriff has publicly stated at least once that he has no intention of complying with OCGA 42-4-14 or OCGA 36-80-23. Conway wrote. “I am aware of responses to open records requests that indicate our sheriff has followed his policies.”

Shortly after his election, Sheriff Keybo Taylor, a Democrat, announced he would withdraw from the controversial 287(g) program, but said that did not mean his county would stop all cooperation with ICE.

The 287(g) program allows state and local law enforcement agencies to work with ICE to arrest suspected undocumented immigrants.

Under language added to the bill by Republican Rep. Houston Gaines of Athens, eligible state agencies would be required to apply for programs like 287(g). Gaines said fewer than 10 agencies in Georgia are currently participating.

Terry Norris, executive director of the Georgia Sheriffs' Association, said he thinks the bill is a good thing, but disagreed that a significant number of sheriffs are intentionally not reporting to ICE.

Norris said he sent a survey to all 159 sheriff's offices in Georgia, 142 of which had jails. Of those, 111 responded, 103 said they reported to ICE, and the other eight had no prisons.

“I don't think this is a conscious 'I won't do it,'” he said. “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t see that. And the other part of it is we're going to step up our efforts a little bit to tell these people, “Look, you have to do this.” We have a pretty strong jail component within the Sheriff's Association that we train. There is also a Georgia Jail Association of which some of these people are members. So we have a good enough forum to disseminate this information. So I see it positively. Anyone who didn’t know will find out now.”