Lawmakers berate Mayorkas on Laken Riley murder: ‘Your policies in action’

Republican lawmakers on Thursday tore into Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the release of the Venezuelan illegal immigrant now charged with the murder of Georgia nursing student Laken Riley — accusing the agency of having released him into the U.S. unlawfully.

Lawmakers grilled the embattled secretary on Jose Ibarra, an illegal immigrant from Venezuela, who is accused of killing Riley on Feb. 22, while she was jogging at the University of Georgia in Athens.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed with Fox News Digital previously that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) had encountered Ibarra on Sept. 8, 2022, and he had been “paroled and released for further processing.”

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U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee hearing on the department’s budget request on Capitol Hill on April 18, 2024, in Washington, D.C.  ((Photo by Andrew Harnik/Getty Images))

But lawmakers cited the parole case file showing that Ibarra had been released due to an alleged lack of detention space – although some conservatives have pointed to data showing that ICE was not near maximum capacity at the time of Ibarra’s release. The statute governing parole, however, says that releases are only allowed due to urgent humanitarian reasons or “significant public benefit.” Republicans have accused the administration of abusing parole with its broad policies at the border, saying that the paroles often do not meet these criteria.

Ranking Member Rand Paul asked Mayorkas about Ibarra’s release and about the legality of the basis for his parole. Mayorkas said that he would not comment on the case.

“All our hearts break for the family of Miss Riley. Secondly, the perpetrator of this heinous criminal act needs to meet justice to the fullest extent of the law. And I will not comment on the particulars of the case, because the matter is being prosecuted by authorities now,” he said.

When Paul followed up, including asking the secretary if he was pleading the Fifth, Mayorkas said “I have provided my answer” but later expanded.

“There are different bases for parole. I am not a legal expert in this regard, but let me assure you that when an individual is encountered at the border, and they are deemed to be at the time of encounter a threat to public safety or national security, they are a priority for detention,” he said. “If not, they receive a notice to appear and are placed in immigration enforcement proceedings. The number of individuals encountered at the border exceed the number of beds available in our detention facilities. That is not something specific to this administration.”

Laken Riley smiles wearing a brown top

Laken Riley poses for a photo posted to Facebook. Riley, a nursing student at the University of Georgia, was found dead near a lake on campus on Feb. 22. An illegal immigrant has been charged with her murder.  (Laken Riley/Facebook)

But Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., then turned up the heat by reading directly from the parole file, which lawmakers had obtained. He also revealed that Ibarra had been given a work permit, despite having been accused of a crime against a child in New York and having the charges later expunged by local authorities.

“Nothing is done to this guy. He had a criminal record to start with, he’s in the country on illegal grounds. You have falsely and illegally allowed him in. He committed a crime against a child. He’s not prosecuted, it’s expunged. In November, get this, in November, Ibarra files an application for employment authorization. And unbelievably, on December 9, 2023, it’s approved,” he said.

“So this is your policies [sic] in action, Mr. Secretary,” he said.

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“I am confident that justice will be vindicated in the criminal prosecution of the case,” Mayorkas responded, which led Hawley to make a reference to the recent impeachment effort against Mayorkas.

Well, hopefully he’ll get more of a trial than you got,” he said. “Otherwise, there’ll be no justice for anyone at all.” 

Separately, Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, raised the CHNV (Cuban, Haitian, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan) parole program, which allows up to 30,000 migrants a month to fly or travel directly into the U.S. via parole.

“Why are you mass importing tens of thousands of Venezuelans into our country via parole, knowing they can’t be deported, because Venezuela isn’t exactly accepting removal flights? He asked him.

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“We are not doing that, senator,” Mayorkas said. “The term ‘importation’ is incorrect.”

Mayorkas also said it was false to say that Venezuela won’t take return flights.

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“We have negotiated in the past removal flights to Venezuela. Those are suspended right now,” he said, before adding that Mexico will sometimes take Venezuelan nationals. 

“So, why do you say it’s not correct when it’s been suspended? That’s why Americans don’t trust you,” Marshall fired back.

Fox News’ Aubrie Spady and Greg Wehner contributed to this report.

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