The Georgia House of Representatives is considering a bill that would force sheriffs to report criminal illegal aliens to federal law enforcement after an illegal alien with a criminal record was charged with murder in the slaying of 22-year-old Laken Riley in a sanctuary city. The sheriff of the college town where the slaying took place, Athens, said he would not comply with federal authorities.

Democrats attacked Republicans for “politicizing a tragedy,” but a Republican who helped draft HB 1105, called The Georgia Criminal Alien Track and Report Act of 2024, told The Daily Signal that he doesn’t consider the legislation political at all.

“Fixing policy in the face of a tragedy to ensure it never happens again is not political, in my opinion,” said Rep. Houston Gaines, a Republican who represents Athens, the Georgia college town where the alleged murder took place. “That should be a bipartisan message.”

HB 1105 advanced Tuesday in the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. Gaines said he expects a vote Thursday on the floor of the Georgia House.

Georgia law (Section 42-4-14) already requires jailers to verify an inmate’s immigration status and report to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security‘s subagency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement. HB 1105 would impose penalties for failing to report criminal illegal aliens to the feds, require local law enforcement to comply with any ICE detainer orders, and require law enforcement to report publicly on the number of inmates in jails along with their immigration status.

John Williams, the Athens-Clark County sheriff, said while campaigning in 2020, “It is not my intention to cooperate with detainers.”

State Rep. Jesse Petrea, the bill’s Republican sponsor, told The Daily Signal that 19 Georgia sheriffs said in an informal poll last year by the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association that they don’t report illegal aliens to federal homeland security officials.

Terry Norris, the association’s executive director, told The Daily Signal that every sheriff who responded to a more recent poll that he began Friday said he or she would report illegal aliens to ICE. A total of 111 sheriffs out of 159 said they follow the law, he said, while 48 didn’t respond. Norris testified last Wednesday: “We do not know how many sheriffs are not reporting to ICE, Homeland Security.”

“Georgia sheriffs have had 18 years to comply with the law,” Petrea said. “There must be a meaningful penalty for failure to follow the law.”

Petrea told The Daily Signal that he wrote the bill long before Riley’s killing, but he said that homicide highlighted the need for the bill.

“To be clear, to those who suggest we are using the murder of Ms. Riley in this matter, my bill was drafted last year and discussed with the Sheriffs’ Association that acknowledges many Georgia sheriffs are not in compliance with [Georgia] law 42-4-14,” he said in a written statement Tuesday. “Indeed, It was heard twice in committee before her murder.”

Laken Riley

Riley, a nursing student at Augusta University, disappeared last Thursday after she went on a run on the University of Georgia campus in Athens. Jose Antonio Ibarra, 26, faces multiple charges of murder and assault in Riley’s death. Authorities said there is no evidence he knew Riley.

Ibarra entered the U.S. illegally in El Paso, Texas, on Sept. 8, 2022, with his wife and her son seeking asylum, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Authorities released him “for further processing,” The New York Post reported.

Police in New York City arrested Ibarra on Aug. 31 and charged him with endangering a child, but released him before immigration officials could ask police to hold him in custody. Police in Athens arrested Ibarra for shoplifting in October; a judge issued a warrant in December when he failed to show up in court.

Athens, Georgia, is a sanctuary city.

Petrea, the sponsor of HB 1105, said he blamed the Biden administration for Riley’s death.

“You have to remember, that’s how he got here,” Petrea told The Daily Signal in a phone call Tuesday. “They put him on a bus and sent him into the interior of the country.”

“I can’t tell you if they had reported him, would ICE have responded in any way,” the Republican lawmaker added. “The removal of criminal aliens has declined 67% since Biden took over.”

He noted that the Georgia Department of Corrections reported holding 182 illegal aliens who are murderers in state prisons with ICE detainers.

“I can’t say it would have changed the outcome of this horrible tragedy,” Petrea said of HB 1105, but it would help in similar cases.

Gaines, who was born and raised in Athens, called Riley’s slaying “the most tragic thing,” and he pointed to “failures in the system” that enabled it.

“The southern border is an unmitigated disaster with millions of people coming into the country that nobody knows who they are,” he said.

Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are demanding more information from DHS on Ibarra’s case.

How the System Works

Norris, the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association executive, said Laken Riley’s death “brings to light the importance of our federal immigration laws and how weak the enforcement of those laws is.”

“These tragedies heighten our awareness to those inadequacies at the federal immigration level,” he added.

Norris explained exactly how the system works when an illegal immigrant gets booked.

“If someone is booked into a county jail, they are fingerprinted and that is the premier way of knowing who that person is,” he noted. “That print goes to the Georgia Crime Information Center and the National Crime Information Center. It gets pushed to the entity known as the Law Enforcement Support Group—that’s the group at Homeland Security that pushes back, ‘This person is here illegally.'”

“The sheriff would get that notice and all they do is let the federal authorities, namely ICE, know that person has been booked,” Norris said.

“Often, when that fingerprint is done and is pushed up to the feds, they get nothing back because the feds only know this person is in the country if they’ve had a local encounter with the feds,” he added.

In those cases, he said, law enforcement checks the immigration status of a detainee and then reports to ICE. The federal agency then can respond with a detainer, ordering law enforcement to hold on to the suspect.

“Unless there’s a warrant signed by a federal judge, these individuals are held like anybody else,” Norris explained. “They can still make bond on these lower-level offenses.”

Changes to the Bill

Petrea’s original version of HB 1105 had harsher penalties for sheriffs who break the law on reporting criminal aliens to federal officials. It would have considered every offense a “misdemeanor of a high and aggravated nature.”

The committee altered the bill Tuesday, keeping that misdemeanor as the second offense, but making the penalty for the first offense merely a “violation of oath of office” subject to a financial penalty from the state.

D.A. King, founder of a Peach State immigration group called the Dustin Inman Society, expressed his support for Petrea’s original version and attacked the newer version.

“The first offense would bring a financial penalty levied on the sheriff’s office of state or federal funds administered by the state,” King told The Daily Signal. “But most funding for the sheriff’s office comes from the county.”

Any penalty would result only “if there is ever any compliance check, which has not happened in 18 years,” King noted. “The criminal penalty is moved to the second offense, which is not likely because there is little chance of a first offense.”

Before the bill was altered, King had said: “The Dustin Inman Society stands in vigorous support of the bill and we are extremely grateful to the sponsor, Rep. Jesse Petrea, for his courageous effort to address criminal aliens in Georgia where we host more illegals than Arizona.”

“We hope observers around the nation will pay attention to this matter here and watch to see if Gov. Brian Kemp acknowledges that the recent tragedy may not have happened if our existing laws were enforced,” King concluded.

King said he would not support the updated version of the bill. “Much of it is Kabuki Theater that will not result in meaningful change from the current absence of enforcement,” he argued.

The committee also added measures from a bill that Gaines introduced Monday, HB 1415. The new version of HB 1105 requires law enforcement to comply with ICE detainer requests. It also requires that law enforcement agencies apply for memorandums of understanding with federal immigration enforcement authorities, such as ICE’s Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g), which authorizes ICE to delegate to state and local law enforcement the authority to perform certain enforcement actions.

Petrea, who authored the original version of the bill, told The Daily Signal he supports the new version.

Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email, and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the URL or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.