Georgia Gets Even Tougher on Immigrants in Aftermath of Laken Riley Slaying

Elijah Nouvelage/Gettty
Elijah Nouvelage/Gettty

Georgia lawmakers passed a bill Thursday to further tighten the state’s already-strict immigration laws, with local cops soon expected to be forced to scrutinize the immigration status of people in their custody and report undocumented suspects to federal authorities.

The new legislation comes on the heels of the on-campus slaying of Laken Riley at the University of Georgia in February, a grisly crime allegedly carried out at random by an undocumented immigrant from Venezuela.

The 22-year-old’s killing has made a significant mark on legislation in Georgia, which was underscored by the passing of Thursday’s measure in the final hours of the legislative session. It’s also grabbed national headlines, with discussion of Riley’s death, along with President Joe Biden’s mispronunciation of her name and use of the word “illegal” to describe her alleged killer, being arguably the most talked-about portion of his State of the Union address.

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Georgia’s new law must be signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican who has regularly attacked Biden’s border policies, before it becomes law. He’s given no indication he would veto the bill.

If signed into law, law enforcement in Georgia would be required to ask questions about the immigration status of each of its detainees, even when a suspect faces only misdemeanor charges. If those suspects say they are undocumented or fail to provide documentation, police will be required to alert U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

The law will also require departments to routinely release data about how many arrests they have flagged to federal immigration authorities. Agencies who are discovered not to be complying with the new requirements could lose state and federal funds, the bill said.

Some Georgia sheriffs raised concerns the new law would add additional responsibilities to already short-staffed departments, but many fully endorsed the bill, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The bill passed the Georgia House 99-75, largely along party lines.

After Riley’s death, Georgia Republicans have called for stricter penalties for migrants, claiming more severe punishment could have saved Riley’s life. That’s because her alleged killer, Jose Antonio Ibarra, was detained by the Border Patrol for entering the United States illegally in 2022 and was arrested two more times while in the U.S. The first arrest came in New York, for allegedly driving a scooter without a license with a helmetless child on board, and his second came for alleged shoplifting in Georgia. Under Georgia’s new law, police would have been required to alert ICE to similar arrests in the state before he was eligible to be released.

Laken Riley’s Dad Says He’s ‘Angry’ Her Death Is Being Used Politically

A bill named after Riley passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this month, with 37 Democrats supporting the measure, which would mandate that all migrants stopped by Border Patrol be taken into custody. That bill isn’t expected to reach Biden’s desk, however, as Democrats maintain a Senate majority and critics have accused politicians of exploiting a tragedy. One of those critics is Riley’s dad, who said earlier this month that he’s “angry” her death is being used politically.

In Georgia, sponsors of the state bill said it was just “common sense” to involve ICE in any arrest involving an undocumented person.

“I think this truly is a common-sense measure,” Rep. Houston Gaines, a Republican whose district includes the University of Georgia, told The New York Times. “What we’re talking about is individuals who are in the country illegally that have committed offenses, additional criminal offenses, and making sure that those individuals are held accountable.”

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