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National News

U.S. House approves immigration bill linked to murder of Georgia college student

Credit: AP

Ariana Figueroa, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 7, 2024

WASHINGTON — Hours before President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, the U.S. House Thursday passed the Laken Riley Act, named after a Georgia college student whose murder has been blamed by conservatives on White House immigration policies.

On the 251-170 vote, 37 Democrats voted with Republicans who pushed for the legislation. They included Pennsylvania Reps. Matt Cartwright, Chris Deluzio and Susan Wild.

Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student at Augusta University, was reported missing by her roommate when she did not return home after a run on the campus of the University of Georgia at Athens. Local police found her body and shortly afterward arrested a 26-year-old man from Venezuela for her murder — an immigrant who had been previously arrested in Georgia on a shoplifting charge.

According to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, 26-year-old Jose Ibarra allegedly entered the country illegally in 2022.

The nine-page messaging bill, H.R. 7511, is not likely to advance in the Senate, where Democrats hold a slim majority.

It would require the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to detain immigrants charged with local theft, burglary or shoplifting. It would also grant states the authority to bring civil lawsuits against the federal government for “failure to enforce immigration law,” House Rules Chair Tom Cole of Oklahoma said during a markup of the bill Tuesday.

“Together these authorities will ensure that what happened to Laken Riley won’t happen to anyone else in the future,” Cole, a Republican, said.

Republicans timed debate and approval of the legislation to come the same day that Biden, who will face former President Donald Trump in November in a reelection campaign already heavily focused on immigration, will speak to the nation.

Georgia lawmakers

Following Riley’s death, the Georgia state legislature is moving a bill that would penalize law enforcement agencies that do not notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, of an arrest if an undocumented immigrant is in custody and found to be in the U.S. without authorization.

U.S. Rep. Mike Collins, a Georgia Republican who represents the Athens district, wrote on X that he invited Riley’s parents to the State of the Union as his guests, but they “have chosen to stay home as they grieve the loss of their daughter.”

“Therefore, the seat reserved for my guest will remain vacant to honor Laken and all American victims of illegal alien crime,” he said.

During debate on the U.S. House floor Thursday, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, accused Republicans of “exploiting her death,” and “demonizing immigrants.”

Republicans like North Carolina’s Dan Bishop argued that the bill was necessary, so there are no “other victims of the Biden border crisis.”

“Allowing this criminal to freely roam our communities is absolutely unacceptable,” Georgia GOP Rep. Rick Allen said on the House floor Thursday.

Maryland Democratic Rep. Glenn Ivey argued that the U.S. Supreme Court already ruled last year that the Biden administration has the authority to determine its deportation policy.

“DHS cannot detain everybody, so the executive branch, not the states, have to make choices,” Ivey said. “This bill would not give DHS the resources to change that.”

House GOP Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana said during a Wednesday GOP press conference that Republicans planned to vote on the bill ahead of the State of the Union to criticize the Biden administration for its handling of immigration at the southern border.

“A crisis that has had a devastating impact on families like Laken Riley’s,” Scalise said.

Democrats decried the bill and accused Republicans of politicizing a young woman’s murder.

Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee, said what happened to Riley was a tragedy and that his own daughter is 22, the same age Riley was when she was killed in late February.

“I am appalled that we have people in Congress and in this committee who are using such a horrible crime to score political points,” McGovern said. “We’re here because you want to try to campaign off this horrible tragedy.”

House Republicans have clashed repeatedly with the White House over immigration, such as passing on a party line H.R. 2, a bill that would reinstate Trump-era immigration policies, and walking away from a bipartisan deal in the Senate to give the president executive action at the southern border.

Most recently, House Republicans voted to impeach U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in early February.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.