ICE was not notified of Laken Riley suspect’s earlier police encounters

Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas, speaking on CBS, addressed Georgia student’s slaying.
Jose Antonio Ibarra was booked into the Clarke County Jail in the death of 22-year-old Laken Riley, who was running on the University of Georgia campus when she was killed, officials said.

Credit: Clarke County Sheriff's Office

Credit: Clarke County Sheriff's Office

Jose Antonio Ibarra was booked into the Clarke County Jail in the death of 22-year-old Laken Riley, who was running on the University of Georgia campus when she was killed, officials said.

U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas acknowledged Sunday that the Venezuelan suspect accused of killing nursing student Laken Riley had previous run-ins with the law, but said federal immigration authorities were not alerted.

Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, entered the U.S. illegally in 2022, authorities say.

Police charged Ibarra on Feb. 23 with several crimes, including malice murder, in the death of Riley. The 22-year-old student was found dead the day before in a wooded area on the University of Georgia’s campus after not returning home from a run.

The slaying has become the latest flashpoint in the heated national debate over immigration policies and enforcement.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, have said that New York police arrested Ibarra in September 2023 and charged him with a motor vehicle license violation and acting in a manner to injure a child. He had reportedly ridden a moped with a child passenger who wasn’t restrained or wearing head protection.

In October 2023, officers from the Athens-Clarke County Police Department in Georgia apprehended Ibarra and his brother, issuing them citations after they were accused of stealing about $200 worth of food and clothing from a local Walmart. They were not arrested.

“We were not notified in this instance,” Mayorkas said in a television appearance on CBS News’ Face the Nation on Sunday, when asked about Ibarra’s two prior detentions by local law enforcement.

Critics of local jurisdictions that limit coordination with federal immigration authorities say Riley’s death could have been prevented if police in New York or Athens were tougher on immigration enforcement and had alerted ICE that they’d apprehended Ibarra.

Mayorkas, speaking on CBS, said Sunday that there are “varying degrees of cooperation” between local and state law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. He did not comment specifically on the degree of cooperation between ICE and authorities in New York and Athens.

Immigration lawyers told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week it’s unlikely Ibarra would have been detained earlier by ICE from his previous run-ins with police, given the minor charges, even if those incidents had occurred in local jurisdictions that cooperate more closely with immigration authorities.

Athens-Clarke authorities said last week it is standard practice to issue citations for certain misdemeanor crimes, including shoplifting. It said its officers don’t have immediate access to immigration status, which is typically checked by jailers during the booking process of an arrestee.

ICE said late last month that Ibarra illegally crossed the border in September 2022 near El Paso, Texas, where he was arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. ICE said Ibarra was then paroled and released for further processing.

Federal authorities have not disclosed Ibarra’s more recent immigration status. Immigration lawyers interviewed by the AJC last week said Ibarra likely was legally in the country at the time of his Feb. 23 arrest, given the information that has been made public.

The Biden administration made Venezuelan migrants who arrived around the same time as Ibarra eligible for a type of deportation relief known as Temporary Protected Status, or TPS. Venezuelans have a strong case for asylum, according to immigration experts, as millions flee political repression and poverty.