Arrest of Migrant in Georgia Killing Turns City Into Latest Battleground on Immigration

When a 22-year-old nursing student was found dead on a wooded trail at the University of Georgia in what’s believed to be the first homicide on campus in nearly 30 years, it set off waves of grief and fear that shook the university to its core.

But when a 26-year-old migrant from Venezuela was charged on Friday with kidnapping and murdering the student, Laken Riley, it did something else: It transformed Athens and Clarke County, a community of about 130,000 people some 70 miles east of Atlanta, into the latest flashpoint in the political fight over American immigration policy.

In a social media post on Monday, former President Donald J. Trump called the suspect, Jose Antonio Ibarra, a “monster,” and blamed President Biden for an “invasion” that is “killing our citizens.” Earlier in the day, at an event at the university, Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia decried “an unwillingness by this White House to secure the southern border.”

A third Republican, Representative Mike Collins, who represents Athens, wrote on social media: “The blood of Laken Riley is on the hands of Joe Biden, Alejandro Mayorkas and the government of Athens-Clarke County,” referring to the unified city-county government.

Such statements have struck many liberals as demagogic rhetoric piled atop a horrific crime. In an interview on Sunday, Kelly Girtz, the Democratic mayor of Athens-Clarke County, said that the conversation should be focused on mourning the victim, and blaming an individual rather than a group.

“This murder was a violent, heinous act,” he said, “and it rests squarely on the shoulders of the perpetrator.”

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