People gather to mourn the loss of Laken Riley during...

People gather to mourn the loss of Laken Riley during a vigil for the Augusta University College of Nursing student at the Tate Plaza on the University of Georgia campus in Athens, Ga., Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. Riley, a nursing student at Augusta University's Athens campus, was found dead Thursday, Feb. 22, after a roommate reported she didn't return from a morning run in a wooded area of the UGA campus near its intramural fields. Students also gathered to pay tribute to a UGA student who committed suicide last week. Credit: AP/Joshua L. Jones

ATHENS, Ga. — Students at two Georgia colleges grappled Monday with the killing of a nursing student killed in a violent act that Republicans including former President Donald Trump and Gov. Brian Kemp blamed on the immigration policies of President Joe Biden.

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.”

The focus now is on migrants who have arrived in the country during the Biden administration, with Republicans blaming Biden for migrant flows even as Democrats attack Republicans for sinking proposed legislation that could have toughened border enforcement. That conflict is only likely to escalate this week with Biden and Trump planning dueling trips to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas on Thursday.

The man charged with murder in Riley’s beating death, Jose Ibarra, is a Venezuelan citizen who immigration authorities say unlawfully crossed into the U.S. in September 2022.

Riley was a nursing student at Augusta University's Athens campus, after starting her college career at the much larger Athens campus of the University of Georgia. She was found dead Thursday after a roommate reported she didn't return from a morning run in a wooded area of the University of Georgia campus near its intramural fields.

Hundreds of students and faculty members gathered Monday afternoon for a vigil for Riley organized by her sorority sisters at the University of Georgia campus. Many people cried and members of Alpha Chi Omega held carnations, a symbol of the sorority.

“Laken showed devotion with every aspect of her life,” said Chloe Mullis, president of the University of Georgia chapter of Alpha Chi Omega. “Doing things halfway just wasn’t an option. We lost one of the brightest lights that has ever been.”

This undated image provided by Augusta University shows Laken Hope...

This undated image provided by Augusta University shows Laken Hope Riley. Police said Friday, Feb. 23, 2024, that they are questioning a “person of interest” in the death of Riley, a nursing student whose body was found on the University of Georgia campus in Athens, Ga., after not returning from a run. Credit: AP

Dabney Duncan, president of the University of Georgia Panhellenic Council, urged people to speak up about possible dangers to prevent further losses, referring to Georgia’s bulldog mascot. “We all carry that responsibility now to ensure that there is not one more dawg.”

Riley’s family planned a Friday visitation and Saturday funeral in Woodstock, Georgia, the suburb northwest of Atlanta where Riley graduated from high school.

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement says Ibarra, 26, was detained by the Border Patrol on Sept. 8, 2022, after entering from Mexico near El Paso, Texas. He was released for further processing, according to ICE. It's unclear if Ibarra applied for asylum.

According to ICE, Ibarra was arrested by New York police on Aug. 31 and charged with acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17 and a motor vehicle license violation. Ibarra was released before ICE could ask New York officials to hold him until immigration authorities could take him into custody, ICE said. New York officials said Sunday they had no record of the arrest.

First lady Marty Kemp and state Rep. Marcus Widower listen...

First lady Marty Kemp and state Rep. Marcus Widower listen as Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp holds a press conference after attending the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce's Pancakes and Policy Breakfast, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Athens, Ga. Credit: AP/Nell Carroll

Trump on Monday repeated a pledge to deport migrants if reelected, adding in a post on social media that “Biden’s Border INVASION is destroying our country and killing our citizens!”

The White House expressed condolences to Riley's family and referred questions about the case to ICE and local law enforcement.

On Thursday, Biden will travel to Brownsville, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, an area that often sees large numbers of border crossings, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. Trump will go to Eagle Pass, Texas, according to three people who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the plans.

Kemp told reporters after a breakfast speech on the university campus to the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce that “we just have a nightmare in this country with mass migration.”

“That is a failure of our system on multiple levels and at multiple times and it has resulted in a young woman’s death," Kemp said during his speech. "That is inexcusable in any absence of any real effort by the Biden administration to step up and address this crisis, as they continue to ignore the calls for meaningful policy change that governors like me had made for well over two years.”

Georgia Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler called the Republican response to Riley’s death “appalling,” saying the GOP is to blame for scuttling a bill in Congress that would have toughened immigration enforcement.

“Our border crisis continues because Donald Trump has convinced one party that the only thing that matters is putting Donald Trump first no matter the cost,” Butler said in a speech on the state Senate floor.

Another Democrat, 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.

Kemp, who is the vice chair of the Republican Governors Association has been emphasizing immigration, saying earlier this month that he would send more Georgia National Guard soldiers to help Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s effort to control illegal crossings on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Kemp’s emphasis on immigration could help mobilize Republican voters in the South’s foremost swing state. That could aid Kemp if he has future ambitions, such as running for U.S. Senate or president. It would also effectively support Trump even though Kemp continues to be cool toward Trump’s renomination after Trump tried and failed to derail Kemp’s 2022 reelection.

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