© 2024 New England Public Media

FCC public inspection files:

For assistance accessing our public files, please contact hello@nepm.org or call 413-781-2801.
PBS, NPR and local perspective for western Mass.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How the death of Georgia nursing student Laken Riley led to a debate about immigration


Politically charged debate over the death of a Georgia student made its way onto the stage of the U.S. Capitol this week. Laken Riley was killed last month, allegedly by a man who entered the U.S. illegally. In the middle of President Biden's State of the Union address, Georgia Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene shouted out from her seat and challenged the president to mention the student by name. WABE's Sam Gringlas in Atlanta explains what it's all about.

SAM GRINGLAS, BYLINE: As President Biden made his way into the House chamber, Greene handed him a white button - on it the name Laken Riley, the 22-year-old nursing student killed on the University of Georgia campus last month. Later, Greene interrupted Biden's speech as he chastised presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump for encouraging lawmakers to block an immigration bill.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: It's not about him. It's not about me. I'd be a winner - not really.

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE: What about Laken Riley?




GRINGLAS: What about Laken Riley? - Greene said. Say her name. Biden held up the white pin Greene had given him.


BIDEN: Lincoln Riley (ph), an innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal. That's right. But how many of the thousands of people are being killed by illegals? To her parents, I say, my heart goes out to you. Having lost children myself, I understand.

GRINGLAS: Republicans slammed Biden for appearing to mispronounce Riley's name. Democrats criticized his use of illegal as a noun, calling the rhetoric dehumanizing. But people in Georgia had already been debating for weeks how to respond to Riley's death. Here's Republican Governor Brian Kemp last month.


BRIAN KEMP: All of Georgia and the entire country have been rocked by this inexcusable and avoidable murder. Laken's death is a direct result of failed policies on the federal level and an unwillingness by this White House to secure the southern border.

GRINGLAS: Biden has recently been calling on lawmakers to strengthen border security and hire more Border Patrol agents and immigration judges, but a sweeping bipartisan proposal fell apart last month. Trump has been ratcheting up his rhetoric about immigration ahead of the election. Today, he's holding a campaign rally in Greene's deeply conservative district in north Georgia. Democrats like state Representative Pedro Marin are warning against exploiting Laken Riley's death.


PEDRO MARIN: It is easy and tempting during an election cycle to target minorities and immigrants in order to score political points.

GRINGLAS: Research shows that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than others. Meanwhile, Republican state lawmakers in Georgia are now pushing several bills that would force local governments to cooperate more fully with federal immigration authorities.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Gringlas in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sam Gringlas is a journalist at NPR's All Things Considered. In 2020, he helped cover the presidential election with NPR's Washington Desk and has also reported for NPR's business desk covering the workforce. He's produced and reported with NPR from across the country, as well as China and Mexico, covering topics like politics, trade, the environment, immigration and breaking news. He started as an intern at All Things Considered after graduating with a public policy degree from the University of Michigan, where he was the managing news editor at The Michigan Daily. He's a native Michigander.