April 15, 2024
As President Joe Biden prepares to address lawmakers during his annual State of the Union address this week, the president is facing increasing pressure to make policy changes at the southern border. The calls largely come in response to the death of Laken Riley, a nursing student who was killed last month on the University […]

As President Joe Biden prepares to address lawmakers during his annual State of the Union address this week, the president is facing increasing pressure to make policy changes at the southern border.

The calls largely come in response to the death of Laken Riley, a nursing student who was killed last month on the University of Georgia campus. The suspect arrested in the case is Jose Ibarra, a Venezuelan immigrant who was arrested in 2022 on charges of illegally crossing the border but was later released into the country. 

At least one lawmaker is pressing the president to name Riley in his speech and acknowledge her death on Thursday. 

“As Commander-in-Chief, it is your duty to protect American citizens, and this tragedy highlights the urgent need to address the surge in crime resulting from your negligence at our southern border,” Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) wrote in a letter to Biden on Monday. 

“Your failure to publicly acknowledge this tragedy is unacceptable,” he added. “The safety and security of American citizens should be your top priority. I am calling on you to publicly acknowledge the Riley family’s tragedy and take swift and decisive action to secure the Border.”

The White House has not responded to a request for comment by the Washington Examiner. 

The letter is the latest development in the nationwide response to Riley’s death, which has reignited debate on how to address the surge of illegal crossings at the southern border. Republicans have frequently blamed the Biden administration’s policies, urging the president to reinstate Trump-era border security measures to crack down on illegal immigration. 

Riley’s death has especially spurred action among GOP lawmakers, with Rep. Mike Collins (R-GA) holding a moment of silence on the House floor last week. The Georgia Republican, who represents the district in which Riley was killed, also introduced a piece of legislation directly responding to her death. 

Under the proposal, named the Laken Riley Act, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would be required to detain immigrants who have been charged with crimes such as local theft or burglary in the United States. 

“Had it not been for the open border policies of this administration, Laken Riley would still be with us, pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse,” Collins said in a statement. “This recklessness cannot be allowed to continue. We need accountability, which is why I’m asking the House to immediately consider and pass the Laken Riley Act.”

Collins has reportedly invited Riley’s parents to Biden’s State of the Union address, according to Fox News.

Ibarra was first arrested by Border Patrol in 2022 for illegally crossing the border before being released shortly after. His release intersected with a parole policy used by Border Patrol that allowed the agency to release immigrants into the country temporarily if it is overwhelmed with the number of crossings. That practice has since ended. 

Since then, Ibarra has been charged with other crimes, such as driving a scooter without a license in New York and a shoplifting incident in Georgia. However, Ibarra was not detained by federal immigration officials after either of those incidents. 

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said immigration officials were not notified of Ibarra’s run-ins with law enforcement that would have led to his detainment. Collins’s proposal would directly change that, according to the bill text. 

The Laken Riley Act is set to be taken up for consideration this week, with a vote as early as Wednesday. 

The National Republican Congressional Committee has also focused messaging on Riley’s death, releasing an ad last week blaming President Joe Biden and his border policies for the rise in crime committed by illegal immigrants. The ad comes after a report from the U.S. Border Patrol last month that it had apprehended more than 6,400 undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions in fiscal 2024 alone. 

Border security has emerged as a top campaign topic ahead of the 2024 election, with the topic only expected to become even more contentious as former President Donald Trump inches closer to securing the GOP presidential nomination. Trump is likely to use the border as a main attack against Biden to argue the southern border was more secure under his administration. 

“Joe Biden will never say Laken Riley’s name, but we will say it, and we will remember it. We’re not going to forget her,” Trump said in remarks at the southern border last week. “It’s a beautiful day but a very dangerous border. We’re going to take care of it.”

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Biden pushed back against Trump’s comments, claiming instead it was the responsibility of Congress to pass legislation to tighten security at the border. 

“Here’s what I would say to Mr. Trump,” Biden said last week. “Instead of playing politics with the issue, join me, or I’ll join you in telling the Congress to pass this bill. You know and I know it’s the toughest, most efficient, most effective border security bill this country’s ever seen.”

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