sábado, abril 13

Georgia Migrant’s Arrest, Murder Makes City Latest Immigration Battleground

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

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

In a social media post Monday, former President Donald J. Trump called the suspect, José Antonio Ibarra, a «monster» and accused President Biden of an «invasion» that is «killing our citizens.» Earlier in the day, at an event at the university, Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia denounced «the White House’s lack of will to secure the southern border.»

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

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

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

When 22-year-old Laken Riley was found dead on a wooded trail at the University of Georgia, it unleashed waves of grief and fear that shook the university to its core.

Athens’ relatively liberal culture, local immigration policies and border crisis have combined with brutal crime to create a toxic mix at Georgia’s flagship university, where student politics runs the gamut.

Outside the student center, Ella Jackson, 19, a freshman from Milton, Ga., said she didn’t feel unsafe or worried. But she challenged the local government’s policies toward undocumented immigrants. “I don’t really think it’s our job to house illegal immigrants, especially so close to a college campus.”

In recent years, the city has seen a rise in local left-leaning politicians, including Mr. Girtz, who have brought new attention to issues of social justice and righting what they see as wrongs persistent in the Deep South. They have not hesitated to welcome undocumented immigrants and a Hispanic community whose numbers have grown significantly in and around Athens over the past 30 years.

At the same time, Athens remains a kind of sacred space for Georgian conservatives. The massive university, located in the middle of the city, has educated many of the state’s most powerful Republicans, including Athens native Governor Kemp. And the school’s winning football team, and the tailgating and adulation it engenders, are core Georgia traditions that Mr. Kemp and others ostensibly weave into a conservative tapestry of culture and policy.

Mr. Kemp, a former Athens builder and real estate developer, won his first race for governor in 2018 with a bold ad in which he said: “I have a big truck, just in case I need to round up some illegal criminals and bring them home. myself.» This month, he pledged to send Georgia National Guard troops to the U.S. border with Mexico.

Mr. Girtz, the mayor, was first elected in 2006 to the commission that governs the unified city and county government. He said that Athens’ most activist group of politicians and their supporters were born, to some extent, out of the new wave and post-punk music scene that sprouted in Athens in the early 1980s, giving the world the REM and the B-52s.

At a cafe near campus Sunday morning, the mayor, dressed in an olive military jacket and cap, rejected the idea that he was responsible for the killing. He said Rep. Collins, who accused him of having blood on his hands, was feeding «a kind of caricature narrative about how the universe works.»

In addition to addressing the race and class issues that have long separated many of Athens’ black and white residents, the new liberal lawmakers have taken a decidedly anti-Trump stance toward undocumented immigrants, many of whom are came to Athens to work in poultry factories or arrived during the construction boom of the early 2000s.

In 2018, then-local sheriff Ira Edwards, under pressure from Mr. Girtz and others, ended the practice of holding arrested immigrants in jail for 48-hour periods in order to give federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents the opportunity to recover them. for possible expulsion.

The following year, Mr. Girtz and the commission passed a resolution denouncing white supremacy and stating that undocumented people should “feel welcome and comfortable” in their interactions with the government.

And in 2020, voters elected a liberal prosecutor, Deborah Gonzalez, who pledged to “consider collateral consequences for undocumented defendants” when making charging decisions.

Conservatives were appalled by it all – and remain so.

On Monday, State Representative Houston Gaines, a Republican from Athens, noted that Mr. Ibarra, the University of Georgia murder suspect, had received a criminal citation for shoplifting at a Walmart in ‘Athens in October, according to court records. Records show a warrant for his arrest was issued, meaning he most likely skipped a court date.

There is “an atmosphere that Athens is a welcoming place for people who, frankly, should not be in the United States,” Mr. Gaines said.

Mr. Ibarra was arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol for illegally crossing the border in September 2022 and was quickly released with temporary authorization to stay in the country, authorities said.

This release, or parole, was a practice the Biden administration used when officials were overwhelmed by a high number of crossings. This practice ended approximately six months later.

In August, Mr. Ibarra was arrested in New York on charges of child endangerment and violating driver’s license laws, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He eventually moved to Athens and lived in an apartment just steps from the crime scene.

A county library serves Pinewood Estates South, a mobile home park and one of Athens’ many predominantly Latino neighborhoods.Credit…Melissa Golden for the New York Times

In 2022, the Republican-led state legislature carried out what Democrats called an act of retaliation, redrawing Athens districts to rid the commission of three of its most liberal members. Ms. Gonzalez, the district attorney, was a key motivator for state lawmakers to create a commission last year with the power to remove state prosecutors. (This commission is currently in operational limbo.)

Mr. Gaines said this week that he and other Republicans would try in the coming days to pass bills aimed at strengthening policies regarding undocumented immigrants.

In a trailer park north of the city, Jose Tapía, 50, a Mexican construction worker and legal U.S. resident, said he expected things to get tougher for his undocumented neighbors . “I think there’s going to be more tension,” he said. “I’m sure the police will be stricter.”