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House passes immigration bill named for murdered Georgia student

The House on Thursday passed a measure that would require the detention of any migrant who commits theft or burglary. The bill, which passed with the support of all House Republicans in attendance plus 37 Democrats, is named after nursing student Laken Riley, who was found dead last month after going out for a run in Athens, Ga.

Police believe Riley, 22, was killed by Jose Ibarra, a man who immigration authorities say crossed the U.S. border unlawfully in 2022. According to police, Riley suffered blunt force trauma to the head. Ibarra, who migrated from Venezuela, was arrested last month on murder and assault charges.

According to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Ibarra was released by border officials pending a review of his immigration case after he was detained by Customs and Border Protection in 2022. He was arrested almost a year later, on Aug. 31, 2023, after New York police charged him with acting in a manner to injure a minor and a motor vehicle license violation.

Following news of Riley’s death, House Republicans — led by Rep. Mike Collins (R-Ga.) — introduced the nine-page Laken Riley Act. It came to the floor hours ahead of President Biden’s State of the Union address and amid Republican criticism of the administration’s handling of the border. House Republicans have long blamed Biden for a rise in migrant crossings and have complained that his administration, including Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, is not properly securing the border, though the GOP conference blocked a bipartisan effort from the Senate to address border security last month.

The Riley Act passed 251-170. While it had the support of some Democrats, the bill is unlikely to pass in the Senate and is instead more of a political messaging vehicle for Republicans seeking to draw attention to issue of immigration.

In a post shared on X, Collins urged the Senate to pass the bill immediately, which he says condemns Biden’s “handling of our southern border.” In a separate statement, his office said that the act also calls on Biden to reinstate “Remain in Mexico,” a pandemic-era measure that forced migrants to stay in Mexico or in their country of origin while awaiting a decision on their asylum application.

The measure, Collins’s office explained, would also amend federal law to require that ICE issue detainers and take custody of undocumented immigrants who commit theft-related crimes, including shoplifting. The bill would allow state attorneys general to sue the homeland security secretary if immigration actions such as parole harm a state or its citizens.

“Please help us ensure justice for Laken and give ICE more tools to detain and deport criminal illegal aliens before they commit more serious crimes,” Collins said on X.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who has long denounced the Biden administration’s immigration policies but has refused to take up bipartisan legislation to address the border, said in a statement that Riley “would still be alive if the Biden administration had done its job.”

“House Republicans are not going to stand by quietly while the President and his administration release dangerous criminals into our communities,” Johnson said. “The Laken Riley Act would help prevent future tragedies. If Senator [Charles E.] Schumer and President Biden care to protect Americans and are serious about securing the border, they will bring this legislation up for a vote and sign it into law immediately.”

And while Republicans — including the party’s presumed presidential nominee, Donald Trump — have used Riley’s death as evidence to argue the surge of migrants at the border is making the United States unsafe, violent crime rates have fallen sharply during the Biden administration, and there is little evidence that immigrants cause more crime.

“Many politicians, law enforcement personnel and ordinary citizens are nonetheless incensed because this person should not have been in the country and thus capable of committing a crime,” Michael Light, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who has published several studies showing undocumented immigrants are not more crime-prone than native-born Americans, told The Washington Post last month. “This view that the person’s undocumented status is an aggravating factor is also likely a reason why these crimes generate such strong responses.”

Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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