Laken Riley case: Second brother of suspect also in custody

Argenis Ibarra, 24, is in ICE facility in Georgia in immigration case.
Argenis Ibarra, 24, the younger brother of the suspect in Laken Riley's slaying, is in custody at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

Argenis Ibarra, 24, the younger brother of the suspect in Laken Riley's slaying, is in custody at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)

A younger brother of the suspect in Laken Riley’s slaying on the University of Georgia campus is also in custody, having illegally entered the country in 2023, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has confirmed.

Argenis Ibarra, 24, was apprehended in Athens by ICE agents on Feb. 23, the same day that his brothers Jose and Diego Ibarra were also taken into custody during the investigation into Riley’s death at the university’s intramural fields.

All three Ibarra brothers, from Venezuela, entered the United States unlawfully, ICE said.

Jose Ibarra, 26, is being held without bond in the Clarke County Jail in Athens, charged with malice murder and other crimes in Riley’s Feb. 22 death. He is the only suspect charged in the 22-year-old nursing student’s slaying.

Diego Ibarra, 28, faces federal and state charges of possessing a fake green card. He is being held in custody after a federal judge in Macon deemed him a flight risk.

ICE said Argenis Ibarra is in custody at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, “pending further investigation of his immigration case.” The agency said he is due to attend an immigration hearing “later in 2024” in Philadelphia.

Records show that all three brothers were living in Athens.

Riley’s death has become the latest flashpoint in the heated national debate over immigration policies and enforcement. President Joe Biden mentioned it in his State of the Union speech Thursday after U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and other Republicans tried to hand him buttons bearing Riley’s name.

Riley was “an innocent woman who was killed by an illegal, that’s right,” Biden said.

During a detention hearing for Diego Ibarra in Macon on Thursday, federal prosecutor Michael Morrison said it was impractical for Diego to return to Athens, as his “only two ties to the Middle District (of Georgia) are his brother Jose, who’s in the Clarke County Jail charged with a brutal murder, and Argenis, who’s incarcerated in an ICE detention center.”

Diego Ibarra briefly worked in a temporary position as a dishwasher in UGA’s Bolton Dining Hall after presenting a fake green card, the university confirmed. It said he was never paid and was fired “as soon as his immigration status was discovered.”

ICE said that Jose Ibarra was apprehended by U.S. border patrol agents near El Paso, Texas, on Sept. 8, 2022, and then paroled and released for further processing. It said he was arrested by police in New York in September 2023 and charged with a motor vehicle license violation and acting in a manner to injure a child, and released before ICE agents could seek his detention.

Diego and Argenis Ibarra first entered the United States unlawfully on April 3, 2023, near Eagle Pass, Texas, ICE said. The brothers were returned to Mexico the same day.

Diego and Argenis Ibarra both reentered the United States illegally on April 30, 2023, near El Paso, Texas, ICE confirmed. It said Argenis Ibarra was released from the custody of U.S. Border Patrol “with a notice to appear” on May 4, 2023.

Diego Ibarra was placed by ICE in its Alternatives to Detention program on May 11, 2023, and released from custody the following day with the requirement that he wear an ankle monitor, the agency said. It said he was removed from the program and listed as an absconder on May 25, 2023, after cutting off his ankle monitor, which was ultimately located on the side of a road in Colorado.

Jose and Argenis Ibarra were not placed in the Alternatives to Detention program, ICE said. Federal authorities haven’t disclosed their immigration status prior to their Feb. 23 apprehension by law enforcement.

The Clarke County Sheriff’s Office said Friday it has no record of Argenis Ibarra being arrested or booked into the county Jail.

The three brothers are among hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan migrants who have unlawfully crossed into the U.S. from Mexico in recent years. Last year, the Biden administration made Venezuelans eligible for a type of deportation relief known as Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which is designed to aid migrant populations who can’t safely return to their home countries because of dangerous conditions.

Jose and Diego Ibarra were apprehended by police in Athens on Oct. 27, 2023, after being accused of stealing about $200 worth of food and clothing from a local Walmart. They were not arrested and instead issued citations for shoplifting. Bench warrants for their arrest were later issued after they failed to appear in court, records show. Bench warrants typically don’t prompt immediate attempts to find a defendant and put them in jail.

Diego Ibarra had other run-ins with Athens police. In September 2023 he was arrested and charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol and associated crimes. He was also apprehended the same month in a domestic dispute. And in December, he was charged again with shoplifting from Walmart. Records show he bonded out of jail after being arrested on those occasions.

The Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, following accusations it hasn’t done enough to track people who entered the country illegally, said Thursday it will strengthen its record-keeping practices in future interactions with undocumented immigrants.

- Staff writer Joe Kovac Jr. contributed to this report.