US House passes immigrant detention measure named after murdered Georgia student

A portion of the border fence is covered in barbed wire along the U.S.-Mexico border in Tecate, California (2019). The US House of Representatives passed a measure on Thursday that would require the detention of any migrants who commit burglary or theft. File photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI

March 7 (UPI) — The US House of Representatives passed a measure on Thursday that would require the detention of any migrants who commit burglary or theft.

The bill was named after a student in Georgia who officials say was killed by an immigrant in the country illegally. Laken Riley, 22, a nursing student at Augusta University, was killed by blunt force trauma while jogging on Feb. 22 in Athens.

The so-called Laken Riley Act, which passed the House by a vote of 251-170, is the latest attempt by Republicans to highlight the immigration issue in an election year. Thirty-seven Democrats joined all GOP members in supporting the bill.

Republicans have used Riley's death to criticize the Biden administration on border and immigration policy.

“Innocent Americans from Laken Riley, 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. “All of them were victims of those the Biden administration released into our country. He is releasing them into your state.”

Research has shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than U.S. citizens.

Jose Ibarra, 26, a Venezuelan citizen, was charged with Riley's killing. Officials said Ibarra was in the United States illegally.

The House of Representatives approved the legislation just hours before Biden's State of the Union address was scheduled to begin. Republicans hope passage of the law will draw attention to Riley's death.

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., sent a letter to the president this week urging him to include the Georgia student's name in 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.”

Other Republicans have said they will also bring immigration-focused guests to the speech to highlight the issue.

However, Democrats have criticized Republicans for exploiting Riley's death.

The story goes on

“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 stunt,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said on the House floor Thursday.

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

The bill would change current detention policies. Currently, people arrested for non-violent crimes are not prioritized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The bill would require those arrested for “burglary, larceny, larceny or shoplifting” to be imprisoned. However, it is not clear whether the new rules would have prevented the release of Ibarra, who U.S. Customs and Border Protection says entered the country illegally from Mexico in September 2022 near El Paso, Texas, and according to the Detention released for further processing. 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.

Polls show that immigration is currently the number one issue among voters heading into the November election. A Gallup poll released last month found that 28 percent of respondents said immigration was the biggest problem facing the country today, ranking it in first place. Next came “the government” at 20 percent, and the economy in general came in at 12 percent.

Collins, the bill's author, said H.R. 7511 was intended to give U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement more tools to “combat illegal alien crime.”

The bill calls for reinstating immigration policies in place under former President Donald Trump, including a practice called “Remain in Mexico,” and calls for eliminating the current practice of “catch and release.”