GOP Leaders Slam Biden’s Apology for Describing Laken Riley Murder Suspect as ‘Illegal’
GOP Leaders Slam Biden’s Apology for Describing Laken Riley Murder Suspect as ‘Illegal’

By Tom Ozimek

Former President Donald Trump and House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) have sharply criticized President Joe Biden’s public apology for using the word “illegal” to refer to the man accused of Laken Riley’s murder.

During his State of the Union address last week, President Biden used the term “illegal” in reference to Jose Ibarra, an illegal immigrant from Venezuela who is accused of attacking Ms. Riley, a 22-year-old Georgia nursing student, and brutally beating her to death.

“Lincoln Riley, an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal,” President Biden said during the address, mispronouncing her first name.

“That’s right. But how many thousands of people are being killed by illegals?” he continued. “To her parents, I say, my heart goes out to you having lost children myself.”

Some progressive lawmakers reacted with outrage over the president’s use of the term “illegal” to describe Ms. Riley’s alleged killer.

“As a proud immigrant, I’m extremely disappointed to hear President Biden use the word ‘illegal,’” Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-Ill.) said in a post on X.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said in a post on X: “No human being is illegal. Just like we should not be implementing Republican policy, we should not be repeating Republican rhetoric.”

“Let me be clear: No human being is illegal,” posted Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on X.

Amid the progressive blowback, President Biden expressed remorse for using the term “illegal,” apologizing in an interview with MSNBC in Atlanta on March 10.

“I shouldn’t have used illegal, it’s undocumented,” President Biden said in the interview.

President Trump, who on the same day was campaigning in Rome, Georgia, criticized the president for the apology.

“Joe Biden went on television and apologized for calling Laken’s murderer an illegal,” President Trump said to loud jeers and boos. “Biden should be apologizing for apologizing to this killer.”

Mr. Johnson also had sharp words of criticism, taking to X to say that the apology was an “embarrassment.”

“The president is cowering to his base and showing deference to a man who deserves none. This man is an illegal immigrant who brutally murdered Laken Riley,” Mr. Johnson said in a post on X. “President Biden should be apologizing to Laken’s family. What an embarrassment.”

Ms. Riley’s murder has become a flash point in the 2024 presidential campaign, as President Biden faces criticism over his handling of the border crisis, which has seen record numbers of illegal immigrants pouring across the border, sparking national security concerns.

‘Say Her Name’

The body of Ms. Riley was found on Feb. 22 near running trails on the University of Georgia campus, where she was a student, with an affidavit indicating that she had been beaten so severely that her head was caved in.

Mr. Ibarra was arrested in connection with the slaying and charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated battery, aggravated assault, false imprisonment, kidnapping, hindering a 911 call, and concealing the death of another.

A spokesperson for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told The Epoch Times that Mr. Ibarra had entered the United States illegally and was later arrested and paroled in two different crimes.

A number of Republicans have blamed President Joe Biden’s catch-and-release policies for the tragic loss of Ms. Riley’s life.

During a March 10 rally in Georgia, a number of President Trump’s supporters displayed signs with the caption “Say Her Name” and bearing a photo of Ms. Riley.

When President Trump took the stage, he told Ms. Riley’s story, with her friends and family present in the audience.

“He’s released tens of thousands of people like this,” President Trump said of President Biden. “Tens of thousands. Because, you know, they come from jails, and they come from mental institutions. He will release them into our country.”

“Biden has implemented a formal policy that illegal aliens who intrude into the United States are granted immunity from deportation,” President Trump continued. “Thus, when this monster showed up at our border, he was set free immediately under the program.”

Vowing to get “justice for Laken,” President Trump thanked Ms. Riley’s family for being at the event, while vowing to address the border crisis if elected in November.

“We’re gonna fix it fast,” he said. “We’re gonna have the largest deportation rise in history.”

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump leaves the stage at the conclusion of a campaign rally at the Forum River Center in Rome, Ga., on March 9, 2024. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Biden’s “illegal” remark came on the same day that the House passed the Laken Riley Act, which requires immigration authorities to detain illegal immigrants who are charged with local burglary or theft.

The legislation also allows state attorneys general or other authorized state officers to bring an action against the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in cases where detention and removal requirements are violated.

The bill cleared the House with bipartisan support, as 37 Democrats joined all Republicans to pass the measure.

T.J. Muscaro contributed to this report.

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