The murder of a Georgia student becomes part of the immigration debate in the USA

The killing of a Georgia nursing student, allegedly by a Venezuelan immigrant, has quickly intensified the country's immigration debate as President Biden and leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump prepare for trips to the border this week.

The body of 22-year-old Laken Hope Riley was found Thursday in the woods near a jogging track on the University of Georgia campus, and her death is one of several cases in recent years that Republican politicians have highlighted as migrant migrants portray dangerous.

Data shows that immigrants, on average, commit fewer crimes than native-born U.S. citizens, but since Biden took office in 2021, Republican leaders have been galvanized by record numbers of illegal border crossings.

“It’s just outrageous,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, told Fox News on Monday. “People are so frustrated. And we’ve been talking about this for years, about the porous southern border.”

Riley, a nursing student at Augusta University who previously attended the University of Georgia, had gone to exercise Thursday morning, according to campus police. A friend reported Riley missing hours later when she didn't return.

Officers searched a wooded area of ​​campus near a lake and found Riley with “visible injuries” from an apparent attack.

The next day, campus police arrested Jose Ibarra, a 26-year-old Venezuelan citizen, and authorities charged him with murder. U.S. government records show Ibarra came to the United States in September 2022 after illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border near El Paso.

The killing catapulted a shaken and grieving college campus into the national political spotlight and reignited a familiar campaign theme for Trump, who is widely expected to face Biden in the November election.

Trump called Ibarra a “monster” on social media Monday and vowed to immediately “seal the border” if elected president. He has repeatedly highlighted crimes committed by immigrants and appeared at rallies and press conferences with the victims' grieving families.

The White House expressed its condolences to Riley's family on Monday. “People should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law if found guilty,” Angelo Fernández Hernández, a White House spokesman, said in a statement.

Trump has often recalled high-profile crimes, such as the 2015 shooting of California woman Kate Steinle by an undocumented immigrant who had been deported five times, to justify building a border wall and deporting immigrants. The man accused of shooting her was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges after a 2017 trial in which his defense attorneys argued it was an accident.

Americans' concern about the negative impact of illegal immigration is greater under Biden than under the previous two administrations, according to a Monmouth University survey of 902 U.S. adults released Monday. More than 8 in 10 survey respondents said illegal immigration was either a very serious or somewhat serious problem, the survey found.

Concern about illegal immigration has increased across all partisan groups, the poll showed, and a majority of Americans support building a border wall for the first time since Monmouth began in 2015.

Ibarra's arrest has revived controversy over U.S. jurisdictions' “safeguards” policies that limited cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to protect undocumented residents from possible deportation.

According to ICE, Ibarra was arrested by the New York Police Department on August 31 and charged with traffic violations and reckless endangerment. Ibarra was released before federal immigration authorities could ask city police to detain him, ICE said in a statement Monday.

Police officials in New York disputed that account Monday. The New York Police Department said it had no record of an arrest of Ibarra in 2023. The Queens County District Attorney's Office said it had no record of the case in its files.

Court records do not indicate whether Ibarra has an attorney.

Biden is expected to visit the border town of Brownsville, Texas, on Thursday to emphasize his support for a bipartisan bill that would increase funding for immigration enforcement and tighten restrictions on asylum eligibility. The bill stalled after Trump said he opposed it.

Trump is also planning a border rally on Thursday in the town of Eagle Pass, Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has occupied a public park along the Rio Grande and lined the river banks with barbed wire and National Guard troops.

The rhetoric and claims of “invasion” espoused by Trump and others have led to hate crimes, and immigrant advocates say immigrants are being unfairly scapegoated. In 2018, months after an undocumented immigrant from Mexico killed college student Mollie Tibbetts during a run in Iowa, her grieving father wrote an opinion column condemning attacks on immigrants.

“I support the debate on immigration; “The common sense outcome has great value,” her father, Rob Tibbetts, wrote in an opinion column in the Des Moines Register. “But do not appropriate Mollie’s soul by espousing views that she believes are deeply racist.”

Charis Kubrin, a criminology professor at the University of California, Irvine, said blaming immigrants is not a solution to deterring crime.

“If we want to apply that kind of logic, then we should ban men from existing in the United States because they are responsible for the vast majority of crime,” she said. “The reality is that if we truly care about reducing crime, we need to get to the root causes.”

Violence against women, for example, is widespread in the United States, she said, and restrictive border policies such as expanding the border wall are unlikely to significantly reduce it. But there could be greater safety measures for women.

“This is not about immigration. It’s about misogyny and patriarchy and all that,” she said. “That’s a harder pill to swallow.”

Kubrin said she and a co-author reviewed all available studies and data on the topic for a 2023 book called “Immigration and Crime: Taking Stock” and concluded that immigrants have no influence on the crime rates would have. On average, immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born residents, she said.

Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for stronger immigration enforcement, said she was skeptical of reports that show immigrants are less likely to commit crimes because local police generally do not pursue them .

But she said increased immigration enforcement is one way to reduce crime, including by combating transnational gangs and drug trafficking that often travel to the United States with much larger groups of migrants.

Since Biden took office, the Border Patrol has averaged about 2 million apprehensions per year, and many have been released into the United States to await an immigration court hearing. Under the Trump administration, migrants have been sent back to Mexico or deported at higher rates, discouraging others from crossing the border, she said.

“Any crime committed by someone who is here illegally, especially a horrific one like murder, is one too many because these are people who shouldn't be here in the first place,” Vaughan said. “The important question is, how do we build a system that ensures that a small portion of the immigrant population that commits crimes is dealt with and removed?”

“We have enough American criminals,” she said.

Scott Clement contributed to this report.