Mayorkas’ 2022 parole of Laken Riley murder suspect raises concerns over immigration policies

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ decision to parole Jose Ibarra, the suspect in the murder of 22-year-old nursing student Laken Hope Riley, less than 18 months before the heinous crime has ignited a debate over immigration policies and detention capacity issues within the United States.

Laken Riley, a promising nursing student, tragically lost her life in February 2024 after she was brutally murdered in Athens, Georgia, allegedly by Jose Ibarra.

Riley's death shocked the nation and prompted questions about immigration policies and public safety.

Ibarra, a Venezuelan national, crossed the border at El Paso illegally, was arrested, then paroled into the United States in September 2022, and subsequently arrested for Riley’s murder just under a year and a half later.

In this week’s Congressional Judiciary Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) was able to ask Secretary Myorkas about Ibarra directly. “[Ibarra] wasn’t paroled because he had a [significant] benefit to the country or that he had a humanitarian need, as the law requires. He was paroled because of capacity problems.”

Mayorkas declined to talk about the details of the case and wouldn’t say whether he had read his department’s file on Mr. Ibarra. “I do not want to speak to the particulars of the case, given the pending prosecution,” he said.

According to DHS, Jose Antonio Ibarra was granted "parole due to detention capacity at the Central Processing Center in El Paso, Texas" prior to the murder.

“DHS just confirmed to me that the man charged with Laken Riley’s murder was paroled into the U.S. illegally, ‘due to detention capacity at the Central Processing Center in El Paso, Texas,’” Graham posted to X. “He wasn’t granted parole because he provided a significant benefit to the country or that he had a humanitarian need, as the law requires.”

Immigration parole is only to be granted at the discretion of the DHS Secretary on a case-by-case basis, in instances of "urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit."

However, questions have been raised regarding the justification for Ibarra's parole, detention capacity, particularly in light of his subsequent arrest for a serious crime. Moreover, concerns have been raised about Secretary Mayorkas’ budget proposals that seek to reduce bed space for detained immigrants.

Despite acknowledging the lack of beds, Mayorkas has repeatedly requested cuts in bed space in budget submissions to Congress.

Lawmakers have pushed back against these proposals, with Congress recently increasing the number of beds to 41,500 in a new bill, despite Mayorkas's request to reduce it to 34,000.

He told senators, though, that he would be willing to accept money for more beds if it’s coupled with other changes in immigration law.

“There is no effective detention when it comes to illegal immigrants coming to our border... The ‘catch and release’ program is one of the greatest pull factors,” stated Graham. “The price of this policy by the Biden Administration is pretty darn high.”

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