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Family honours student killed at University of Georgia as her murder becomes political

Family members of a murdered nursing student are honouring her memory as some Republican political leaders seek to tie her death to President Joe Biden’s immigration policies.

Laken Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student at the Augusta University College of Nursing, was found dead on the University of Georgia campus 22 February after going for a jog. In the days since her death, her family has issued a statement honouring her memory.

“We wish to thank the public for their prayers and thoughts during this tragic time,” the family’s statement read. “Laken was an amazing daughter, sister, friend and overall person in general. Her love for the Lord was exemplified in every aspect of her life. She will be missed every day, but we promise to honor her life moving forward in a very big way.”

Ms Riley’s family has launched a GoFundMe in her memory.

“During this most difficult time, we ask that you respect our privacy, and provide us the time and space necessary to grieve our daughter’s life that was tragically cut short,” the statement continued.

Police have a suspect in custody: 26-year-old Jose Antonio Ibarra. He has been charged with malice murder, felony murder, false imprisonment, kidnapping and other charges related to Ms Riley’s death.

Laken Hope Riley was found dead on the University of Georgia campus (AP)
Laken Hope Riley was found dead on the University of Georgia campus (AP)

Mr Ibarra does not have an “extensive” criminal history, University of Georgia Police Chief Jeff Clark said on Friday, and there is no evidence he previously knew Ms Riley. Mr Ibarra, who is not a US citizen, migrated from Venezuela to the US in 2022. While crossing into El Paso, Texas, he was arrested by border patrol agents before entering the country with temporary permission.

He appeared in court on Saturday charged with felony murder and kidnapping and was ordered held without bond,.

Jose Antonio Ibarra, pictured, has been charged in connection with the death of Laken Riley (Clarke County Sheriff’s Office)
Jose Antonio Ibarra, pictured, has been charged in connection with the death of Laken Riley (Clarke County Sheriff’s Office)

Mr Ibarra’s brother was also charged on Friday with possessing a fraudulent green card, CNN reports.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican, called on President Biden to take action on immigration after learning that Mr Ibarra migrated.

“For more than two years, we’ve demanded action to secure our southern border and answers from the White House about who’s coming into our country,” Mr Kemp wrote on X. “We’ve yet to get an answer, we’ve yet to see action, and now a tragedy has happened. We need answers, and we need action, from Joe Biden and the White House NOW.”

Mr Kemp has long advocated stricter immigration policies and opposed Mr Biden. Last year, the Republican pledged to help Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s efforts to suppress US-Mexico border crossings, the Associated Press reported.

Mike Johnson, Speaker of the US House of Representatives and a staunch opponent of Mr Biden, also used the tragedy to speak about immigration policy.

“The brutal murderer who took the life of Laken was one of the millions of illegal aliens that the Biden Administration simply released and unleashed upon our country,” Mr Johnson, a Republican, wrote on X. “For Laken, and the countless many others lost to this border catastrophe, House Republicans will continue to fight tooth and nail for a return to law and order.”

It is a widespread myth that those who migrate to the US are more likely to commit crimes — a recent study from the Pew Research Center revealed 57 per cent of Americans believe the large number of migrants seeking to enter the country leads to more crime.

But there is no evidence to suggest people who migrate to the US, including those who are undocumented, commit more crimes than those born in America. In fact, between 2012 and 2018, undocumented migrants in Texas were less than half as likely to commit violent crimes than those born in the US, according to a widely cited, peer-reviewed study from 2020.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson has made stricter immigration policies the hallmark of his time as House Speaker.

Earlier this year, three US Senators unveiled a bipartisan agreement to restrict immigration and put in place additional border security resources in exchange for aid to Ukraine and Israel.

Then, US House Republican leadership – including House Speaker Mike Johnson, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer and House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik – put out a joint statement saying the bill was “DEAD on arrival.”

“But what they produced for us right now really isn’t a border security bill,” Mr Johnson told reporters at the time. “It’s an immigration bill.”