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New Details Reveal Laken Riley’s Killer Was Part of Venezuelan Gang

Laken Riley. Social Media
Laken Riley. Social Media

United States border authorities disclosed Monday that the migrant accused of killing Laken Riley had been recognized as a member of a dangerous Venezuelan gang but was allowed to enter the country without any obstacles.

Internal documents from the Department of Homeland Security identify 26-year-old Jose Ibarra as a member of the dangerous Tren de Aragua Gang. Recent filings in the U.S. Middle District of Georgia have disclosed that Ibarra bears unique tattoos associated with that specific gang. These tattoos include a "five-point crown" on his left neck and five-pointed stars on his right neck. Images on social media depict him posing with firearms and gesturing gang signs. According to ICE officials speaking to The New York Post, Jose Ibarra was identified as an active member of Tren de Aragua.

"The case of Jose Ibarra is a textbook example of how federal, state, and local policies directly contributed to the murder of an innocent woman who was just out for a jog," said Ira Mehlman, media director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). "After entering the country illegally in 2022, Ibarra was released into the U.S. under parole – an authority the Biden administration has been abusing on a massive scale. Clearly little, if any, vetting was carried out because he was not flagged for gang affiliations," he added.

"For the past six years, the Tren de Aragua wreaked havoc throughout South America, and now, they are in North America," said Joseph Humire, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society (SFS).

"Since 2021, the Venezuelan prison gang specialized in human trafficking and human smuggling has been moving north with their eye on the U.S. southern border. Since the Tren doesn't try to dominate the drug trafficking industry, they aren't directly competing with the Mexican cartels and are aiding them in its human smuggling operations," he told The Foreign Desk.

"There is one key angle that is of utmost importance for U.S. national security. The Tren de Aragua is a fast-growing transnational criminal organization that has received indirect support from the Maduro regime," Humire said.

According to officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Ibarra was apprehended initially for unlawfully entering the U.S. in September 2022 near El Paso, Texas. Despite this, he was granted parole and allowed to remain free in the U.S. until October 2024 after spending less than 24 hours in custody. Ibarra traveled to New York City, residing in a shelter provided by the city. He shared photos of himself smiling at famous landmarks in the Big Apple.

"The Laken Riley murder by an alleged illegal alien Venezuelan gang member demonstrates that Joe Biden and DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas should end their unlawful immigration mass parole programs generally, but especially for Venezuelans and now Haitians," said Lora Ries, director of the Border Security and Immigration Center at The Heritage Foundation. "The sudden, numerous crimes committed by Venezuelan gang members here in the U.S. show that the Biden Administration has recklessly encouraged, facilitated, and condoned the importation of dangerous criminals into American communities," she added.

The 26-year-old Venezuelan migrant was arrested by New York City police but released shortly after before fleeing to Georgia to rendezvous with his purportedly aggressive brother. His brother had also entered the country legally but had removed an ankle monitor to avoid detection by authorities.

Mehlman notes that Ibarra was arrested on charges of child endangerment in New York City in 2023 and was released from custody without informing ICE under the city's sanctuary policy. "He then joined his brother, Diego, in Athens, Georgia – also a sanctuary jurisdiction. Diego had been arrested on DUI charges but was allowed to remain in Athens," he told The Foreign Desk.

In September 2022, Ibarra was arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol in El Paso, Texas, for illegally crossing the border. He was accompanied by his girlfriend, Layling Franco, and her 5-year-old son. Less than 24 hours later, Ibarra was released on parole due to a lack of detention space, as per ICE records.

Ibarra was given the address of a homeless shelter in New York as his destination and instructed to report to the agency in the City. Reports at the time indicated that El Paso was experiencing a significant influx of migrants, with over 600 arrivals per day. During that period, Mayor Eric Adams of New York supported transporting migrants from El Paso to New York.

In late October 2022, Ibarra received a notice from ICE to report for a check-in appointment. However, in early April 2023, ICE in New York changed Ibarra's appointment date, delaying it until Dec. 13, 2023. There was no evidence that Ibarra had previously checked in with ICE as required.

Fast forward to May 2023, Ibarra filed an asylum application and applied for a work permit. In the summer of that same year, Ibarra was taken into custody by the New York Police Department (NYPD) for riding a gas-powered moped with his girlfriend's son on board without providing any head protection or restraint for the child. The NYPD released him before ICE could issue a detainer for his arrest. Subsequently, his case with the NYPD was sealed.

Franco and Ibarra parted ways, and Ibarra relocated to Athens, Georgia, where he reunited with his brothers, Diego and Argenis. In April of that year, Diego and Argenis attempted to enter the U.S. but were immediately deported. Less than a month later, they made another attempt to cross the border at El Paso. During this incident, Diego engaged in a physical altercation with border officers, according to his arrest report.

Despite the confrontation and his attempt to bite an officer, Diego reached a deal with federal authorities and was allowed entry into the country under supervision with an ankle monitor. However, he removed the monitor in Littleton, Colorado, before proceeding to Georgia. Argenis was also granted entry into the country.

In December 2023, Diego faced arrest charges for driving without a license and under the influence of alcohol, resulting from incidents in September. Additionally, in October of the same year, the brothers were apprehended for theft from a Walmart store. According to police records, stolen items totaled over $200, comprising food, T-shirts, shorts, and a jacket. Following their failure to comply with police requests, warrants were issued for the arrest of both brothers in that same month. Meanwhile, Diego briefly held a position at the University of Georgia, using a falsified green card for identification purposes.

Then, in late February, Ibarra allegedly murdered Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student, as she jogged close to her campus. According to arrest reports, he was arrested and accused of several serious offenses related to the death of Riley. These include concealing the death of another, false imprisonment, felony murder, malice murder, kidnapping, aggravated assault, and aggravated battery.

On the day Ibarra murdered Riley, his brother Diego encountered law enforcement officers who believed he resembled the suspect. Diego was taken into custody when he presented a counterfeit green card to the police. He is now facing a sentence of 10 years in prison for the unlawful use of the forged federal identification.

According to Atlanta's WSB-TV, Argenis was arrested on the same day and is presently detained by ICE as they continue to investigate his immigration status.

"Tragically, Laken Riley wound up paying with her life for these reckless federal and local policies that place protection of illegal aliens – including criminals – ahead of the protection of the American public," Mehlman said.

Ries also noted that following recent mass jailbreaks in Haiti and Mayorkas’s parole program for Haitians, the U.S. will "likely see another criminal wave come to our cities."

"Congress should immediately defund all of these parole programs in the DHS appropriations bill to prevent any more Laken Rileys," Ries told The Foreign Desk.

Related Story: House Passes Laken Riley Act, Strengthening ICE’s Ability to Detain Illegal Immigrants

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