Hispanic Community Expresses Fear Amid Immigration Debate After Student’s Killing

Aiexpress –  The immigration debate in the country reached new heights when Donald Trump strongly criticized President Joe Biden, holding him responsible for the tragic death of a 22-year-old nursing student in Athens, Georgia. Authorities claim that the individual responsible for the crime was an undocumented immigrant.

Republicans throughout Georgia are also attributing the current situation to Democratic policies and advocating for stringent immigration laws that would increase the barriers to crossing the border.

Hispanic residents in Athens are expressing their concerns over the escalating rhetoric, fearing that it may result in a backlash against the Hispanic and immigrant communities. They worry that this backlash could potentially put individuals at risk of facing violence or enduring harsh local policies.

Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, has been arrested by authorities on murder and assault charges in connection with her death. It has been revealed that he entered the U.S. illegally in 2022 and has been previously arrested at least once.

Research indicates that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes compared to individuals who were born in the United States.

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Republicans blame Biden’s ‘failed policies’

Both Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and former President Donald Trump have pointed fingers at President Biden, holding him responsible for the tragedy and attributing it to his “failed policies” that they claim have led to a rise in violent crime across the country.

“The American people are well aware of the events that transpired,” Kemp stated during an interview with Fox News on Tuesday. He firmly believes that the president failed to secure the border, which ultimately resulted in the tragic loss of a young woman’s life.

Last week, both Biden and Trump made separate visits to the border, where they engaged in a heated debate over reforms. Biden urged Congress to enact bipartisan legislation that would implement the most stringent border restrictions seen in years.

According to Biden, the legislation enjoyed bipartisan support until someone intervened and raised concerns about it benefiting the incumbent. He criticized Trump for obstructing the bill, referring to it as a problematic approach to addressing a serious issue in America.

The killing of Riley has sparked a heated immigration debate, which has resulted in a Georgia bill gaining traction in the state legislature. This proposed legislation aims to limit funding for Georgia law enforcement agencies that do not assist federal immigration authorities, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Additionally, it would mandate that all eligible police and sheriff’s departments assist in the identification, arrest, and detention of undocumented immigrants for deportation.

The Georgia House Republicans successfully passed it on Thursday.

According to Samuel Thomas, an immigration attorney in Athens, the bill grants the state the authority to take action against any sheriff’s department or local law enforcement agency that fails to cooperate with ICE.

Jean-Luc Rivera, deputy executive director of the Latino Community Fund Georgia, a nonprofit organization that provides support to Latinx and Hispanic communities in the state, dedicated his day at the Capitol in Atlanta to persuading state legislators to reject the bill. According to him, this legislation is instilling fear and fostering a tense atmosphere within immigrant and Hispanic communities.

According to Rivera, individuals who believe they could be mistaken for foreign nationals will be required to carry their passport with them at all times. This development has raised concerns regarding potential implications of such legislation. Rivera expresses apprehension about the consequences that may arise from this new requirement.

‘I think it’s going to get bad’

Rosa, a Mexican national residing in the country without documentation, is concerned that the escalating political pressure could result in local authorities reinstating a procedure to detain individuals without legal status for 48 hours, allowing ICE to apprehend them. If such a policy were implemented, she expressed her fear of living under constant threat of deportation, a fear she has not experienced since her arrival in Athens 11 years ago with her family.

As a mother of three, I am unable to obtain a license, so I rely on others for transportation. However, if the policy were to change, I would no longer have to take the risk of driving without a license.

Juan, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, is constantly juggling part-time jobs and his household responsibilities. He rarely has time to spare for worries. However, everything changed this week when his wife approached him with a question: “Are there any other places in the U.S. that you would consider living in?”

She brought up the idea of relocating their family of four from Athens, where they have been living for the past six years and have established a comfortable life.

“We are deeply rooted here, so it would take a significant amount to compel us to leave,” he expressed. “However, in the event that the safety of my family is compromised and Athens becomes an unsafe place, we may have no choice but to consider alternative options.”

‘Used as a political chip’

The University of Georgia’s Hispanic Student Association, where Riley was once a student, revealed in an Instagram statement that they have been subjected to hatred and bigotry in the aftermath of Riley’s passing.

“We are all deeply shaken by the hurtful and discriminatory comments that followed the tragic loss of one of our own,” the statement expressed.

The Latino Community Fund Georgia, led by Rivera, has strongly condemned the hateful comments that members of the Hispanic community are being subjected to. In a statement, the organization highlights that it is unfair to use specific characteristics as a basis for making generalizations or accusations against entire groups of people.

Rivera expressed his initial shock upon learning about Riley’s tragic death.

“But then, a shift occurred and it became evident that this would also be exploited for political gain,” he expressed. “At that point, I became increasingly worried about the impact this would have on the immigrant community in Georgia.”

Protesters call for Athens mayor to resign

This week, when protesters demanding the resignation of Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz interrupted a news conference, tensions rose. Some yelled “liar” as he spoke, while others held posters that said “BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS” and “#MakeAthensSafeAgain.”

The demonstrators repeatedly pointed to Girtz’s August 2019 resolution, which opposed white supremacy and stated that “all people, including those without documentation, must feel welcome and comfortable interacting with local law enforcement” and “their government.”

“The Athens-Clarke County Unified Government is welcoming to people from all lands and backgrounds and strives to foster a community where individuals and families of all statuses feel safe, are able to prosper, and can breathe free,” according to the agreement.

Girtz stated that his government has not implemented any rules that would render Athens a “sanctuary city,” a broad phrase used to characterize municipal governments that limit cooperation with federal agents enforcing immigration laws.

According to the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts, the state legislature banned sanctuary city policies in 2009 and, since 2016, has required local governments to submit a document each year certifying that there are no policies in place that prevent employees from informing federal officials of a person’s immigration status. Girtz told reporters that his office has always followed the law.

In 2018, the Clarke County Sheriff’s Office, which oversees the Athens jail, amended its policy, forcing prison workers to keep captured immigrants for 48 hours before notifying Immigrant and Customs Enforcement.

For the past six years, the sheriff’s office has only held undocumented immigrants in jail and has notified federal authorities if there is a warrant out for their arrest, according to a copy of the policy obtained from USA TODAY. The sheriff’s office states in its policy that it cannot “detain people solely on the basis of being an undocumented alien.”

Deborah Gonzalez, the Western Circuit District Attorney campaigning for re-election, stated in her day-one message that her office will “take into account collateral consequences for undocumented defendants” while making charging choices.

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