Illegal Immigrant Killing of Nursing Student Elicits Yawns and Deflections from the Media

When government inaction becomes misconduct

By Andrew R. Arthur on February 28, 2024

The killing last Thursday of a 22-year-old Augusta University College of Nursing student — who had been out for a run near her old alma mater, the University of Georgia in Athens (UGA) — has stirred interest in the national media, both because of the shocking and senseless nature of that crime and because the suspect is a Venezuelan migrant who entered illegally in September 2022 only to be released into the United States.

Such interest is to be expected. What was unexpected was the degree to which the murder has elicited yawns and deflection from major news outlets. Government nonfeasance is unavoidable, but when the government deliberately fails to enforce laws intended to keep Americans — both citizens and lawful immigrants — safe, inaction becomes misconduct, and accountability is in order.

The Victim. The victim of this brutal crime was Laken Riley, and she was located by authorities shortly after a friend became concerned that she failed to return home from a routine run and called the police. Riley was found to have suffered blunt force trauma, and attempts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful.

Many of the facts surrounding Riley’s death are disturbing. Countless parents send their kids off to college each year, and hope for the best as their children find their way in the world. Forty thousand students attend UGA, and it’s particularly attractive for some unique reasons — it’s a great school with great sports, and Athens, Ga., is a vibrant, yet sheltering, college town.

The timing of the crime itself is also shocking. Riley was killed in the morning, in broad daylight, with the call to police being placed just before noon.

It’s been 20 years since there has been a homicide at UGA, and hopefully it will be at least that long before another such senseless crime is committed there.

The Alleged Suspect. Police acted quickly in arresting a suspect in Riley’s homicide, Jose Ibarra, a 26-year-old Venezuelan national. He lived about a mile away from the scene of the attack with his brother, Diego. Both are currently in custody and being held without bond. Police describe the killing as a “crime of opportunity”.

Jose Ibarra didn’t go directly from El Paso, Texas, where he was arrested by Border Patrol agents after entering illegally and paroled into the United States, to Athens, however. NewsNation reports:

According to ICE officials, Ibarra made his way to New York City, where he was arrested Sept. 14, 2023 and charged with “acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17 and a motor vehicle license violation. He was released by the NYPD before a detainer could be issued.”

Here’s how the New York Post describes that earlier alleged offense:

Ibarra ... was working for DoorDash, Uber Eats and a local restaurant when he was arrested in August for endangering the welfare of a child, after he was caught in Queens riding a gas-powered moped with Franco’s son on the back, without any head protection or restraint for the child, according to police sources.

The case was later sealed.

For its part, the NYPD claims that it has no record of his arrest on file.

Jose Ibarra didn’t arrive at the Southwest border alone. Instead, he came to the United States with his wife, Layling Franco, and five-year-old son, according to Fox News. Franco told the New York Post that she married Ibarra:

so we could join our asylum cases. ... He was the person I thought I could see through. We’ve known each other our entire lives. ... He wasn’t aggressive, none of that. ... We had problems as a couple but our problems weren’t physical. We wouldn’t punch but we’d raise our voices.

Diego Ibarra had a September arrest for drunk driving in Georgia, was arrested again for shoplifting in October, and was arrested a third time following Riley’s death when he presented a fake green card to the cops who came to question him in connection with the murder investigation. Apparently, he had also presented the bogus document two weeks ago, to secure a job at UGA as a dishwasher.

Why was he questioned? Local reporting indicates Diego Ibarra matched the description of the suspect in the murder, and was out walking when the police approached him, which prompted him to proffer the card. Respectfully, presenting a fake immigration document to officers is stupid, if not obnoxious.

To be clear, the investigation of both Ibarra brothers is ongoing, and none of this has been proven yet. The local police chief claimed, however, that “campus security cameras helped investigators identify Ibarra as Riley’s killer”. As for motive, according to the chief: “This was an individual who woke up with bad intentions that day.”

The Governor’s Reaction. On February 24, the day after Jose Ibarra was arrested for the killing of Riley, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp sent a letter to President Biden seeking answers about Ibarra’s immigration status. As the governor stated therein:

Laken Riley's tragic death struck the hearts of Georgians everywhere and has rightfully sparked national outrage. ... As I have said many times before: every state is now a border state because of Joe Biden's inaction, and today I am again demanding answers and information from the Biden Administration that will help us protect our citizens when the federal government will not.

Kemp also took to X (previously Twitter) to tweet out that letter:

The Reporting. For some reason, Axios chose February 24 — again, the morning after Jose Ibarra was arrested — as a good time to issue the following tweet:

It links to an Axios article from October, which itself elliptically ties together both 1920’s Klan violence and Clinton administration policies to contend that the same open border Jose Ibarra and his family exploited to come to the United States is just a GOP-fueled and driven “myth”.

Note that neither the killing of Riley nor the arrest of the Ibarra brothers is referred to therein, but the timing of that Axios Tweet could hardly have been worse, and prompted numerous responses on X, like this one from Ryan Girdusky:

The Associated Press (AP), for its part, used the crime as an opportunity to “highlight[] the fears of solo female athletes” in an article it ran on February 24.

I’m from Baltimore, where random street violence affecting both men and women is a way of life, so the AP article is certainly a useful if not salubrious endeavor, but (again respectfully) it kind of misses the larger lessons that should be learned from this tragedy, about the criminal impacts of an insecure border.

While AP mentions the name of the suspect, it never alludes to his immigration status, let alone explains how exactly he was in Athens, Ga., to allegedly commit this crime. That oversight prompted yet another tweet from Girdusky (among countless others):

“Republicans Say”. AP thereafter shifted the focus of its reporting on this crime on February 26, in an article captioned “Republicans say Georgia student’s killing shows Biden’s migration policies have failed”.

The middle of that article, appropriately, mourns the loss of Riley, describes the community of friends that surrounded her during her college years, and includes a charge from the president of UGA’s panhellenic council (Riley was a member of the UGA chapter of Alpha Chi Omega sorority) for members of the university community to protect one another.

It was the beginning and end of that article that delved deeply into the political, including the second paragraph, which read:

The killing of 22-year-old Laken Riley revived a theme — migrants committing violent crimes — that is animating the 2024 elections as Trump seeks a return to the White House. Trump famously launched his 2016 presidential bid with these words about Mexicans: “They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Note the use of the words “revived a theme”, which along with the “Republicans say” in the headline more or less tells you where this is going. Speaking of “themes”, this is a variation of the “Republicans pounce” trope my colleague Mark Krikorian and I have each alluded to in the past, best defined by Urban Dictionary as:

A headline in a newspaper or other article that describes Republicans (or other right-leaning individuals) attacking a Democrat (or other left-leaning individual) when that Democrat commits a misdeed. Always written by a reporter with left-wing political views, it will attempt to frame the Republicans as overzealous, and will either downplay, ignore, or excuse the Democrat's misdeed. Commonly done by the New York Times or Washington Post, it is often viewed as a sign of the bias within the media.

In any event, the sections of that article that don’t pay tribute to Riley’s life are largely a back-and-forth on which of the two parties bears responsibility for the border crisis that enabled Jose Ibarra to enter and remain in the United States — the Biden administration for its migrant release policies, or former President Trump and the GOP for rejecting a proposed Senate border bill.

I’ve extensively analyzed and explained the flaws in that bill in the past, but suffice it to say that it would not end “catch and release” of illegal aliens at the Southwest border — it would reverse current migrant detention mandates in the law and essentially give the Biden administration authority to release any alien claiming asylum, without first assessing the strength or validity of that alien’s claim.

There’s no such analysis in the AP article, let alone any proof for contentions therein that Trump — who currently holds no elected office — was responsible for the failure of that bill, let alone that he did it to keep the border open as a campaign issue.

Regardless, here’s how AP ends that piece, in the fourth and third paragraphs from the end:

Another Democrat, [Georgia] state Sen. Nabilah Islam Parkes, said the characterization of migrants as “criminals and thugs” following Riley’s death was xenophobic. “As Georgia mourns the life of Laken Riley, we must not succumb to tribalism and bigotry,” she said.

Many studies have found immigrants are less drawn to violent crime than native-born citizens. One published by the National Academy of Sciences, based on Texas Department of Public Safety data from 2012 to 2018, reported native-born citizens were more than twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes than people in the country illegally.

As an aside, the Center has debunked many of the claims in the study of Texas crime data that the article references, but that’s not really the point.

The Points. Actually, there are two points to be drawn from this case, and here’s the first: Foreign nationals seeking admission to the United States must first establish that they don’t have criminal records that would bar them from admission.

That criminal screening process begins either at consulates abroad or by the applicants online before they begin their journeys to the United States. Aliens entering illegally, however, bypass that process, and the DHS vetting that occurs before they are released into the United States is perfunctory, at best.

No outlet I can find has reported whether Jose Ibarra had a criminal record before he came here, but inasmuch as he is a national of Venezuela — a country with which the United States has poor diplomatic relations — it’s doubtful whether anyone in the U.S. government knows much about his past.

Which is, in part, why those detention mandates for inadmissible “applicants for admission” (including illegal migrants) exist in the first place. Detention provides the U.S. government an opportunity to delve more deeply into aliens’ backgrounds, assess their intentions, and determine whether they are a “danger to the community”.

Prior to the Biden administration, and with only limited exceptions, all removable aliens were required to prove that they didn’t pose a danger to the community before they were released. Under Biden’s border rules, however, that requirement has been replaced by directives intended to process aliens out of CBP custody as quickly as possible.

Which leads me to the second point. Crimes committed by removable aliens could have been prevented, because if those aliens weren’t in the United States, they wouldn’t have been able to carry out their criminal acts. That’s not simply a theoretical principle — it's codified in U.S. law.

The DOJ Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), along with ICE and DHS, administers the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program (SCAAP), which is governed by section 241(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. As BJA explains:

SCAAP provides federal payments to states and localities that incurred correctional officer salary costs for incarcerating undocumented criminal aliens with at least one felony or two misdemeanor convictions for violations of state or local law, and incarcerated for at least 4 consecutive days during the reporting period.

SCAAP funding, at its core, forces the federal government to recompense states and localities for DHS’s failures to remove “undocumented criminal aliens” — a class in which Jose Ibarra is allegedly a member. Think of SCAAP as a cash apology for the federal government’s inaction and nonfeasance, because if DHS had done its job, those aliens never would have been able commit crimes here.

Government nonfeasance, however, becomes misconduct when DHS ignores Congress’ commands and funnels unvetted illegal aliens into the United States. To AP’s point, most aliens won’t be arrested for serious crimes, let alone homicide. When they are, however, it’s essential to recognize the failures that left them free to offend. Thus far, most in the media have failed to do that — all in the name of politics.