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Sen. Britt seeks speedy passage for Laken Riley Act

If passed, states could sue the federal government over immigration decisions responsible for damages of $100 or more.

Sen. Katie Britt
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On May 23, Alabama Senator Katie Britt was one of eleven Republican senators to sign a letter to the chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Dick Durbin, asking him to schedule a mark-up of the Laken Riley Act. Britt introduced the Laken Riley Act to the Senate on March 12 and has been one of the bills primary advocates, alongside Senator Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina.

The letter describes the bill as a “common-sense measure that would help to avoid future tragedies resulting from the failure to enforce and follow immigration law.”

A response to the death of Georgia college student Laken Riley, the bill would require the Department of Homeland Security to detain any undocumented immigrants who are charged with, arrested for, convicted for, or [admit] to … burglary, theft, larceny, or shoplifting.” The bill would also allow a state government to sue the Secretary of Homeland Security for any harm to the state or the state’s residents, “including financial harm in excess of $100.”

Riley was killed in February by an undocumented immigrant who had previously been arrested for theft and subsequently released. On the Senate floor on May 23, Britt claimed that “if this bill had been the law of the land, Laken Riley would still be alive today.”

Britt previously drew attention to Laken Riley’s tragic death during her much criticized response to Biden’s State of the Union. In her address, Britt said that Riley was “brutally murdered by one of the millions of illegal border crossers President Biden chose to release into our homeland.”

“That could’ve been my daughter,” she stated. “It could’ve been yours.”

While Riley’s father, Jason Riley, is a Trump supporter, soon after her death was mentioned in both Biden’s State of the Union and Britt’s rebuttal, he criticized the politicization of the tragedy. In an interview with NBC, he said that using his daughter’s death to get votes “makes me angry. I feel like, you know, they’re just using my daughter’s name for that.

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The House passed the Laken Riley Act on March 7 in what Britt called an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion.

While 37 Democrats in the House voted for the bill, in the Senate it currently has only one Democratic cosponsor: Senator Jon Tester, D-Montana. Tester is up for reelection in November in a state that Trump won by 16 points in 2020.

The text of the bill also contains fairly charged partisan language regarding the Biden administration’s handling of immigration policy and the Southern border.

One of the bill’s findings is that the nation “denounces the open-borders policies of President Joe Biden, ‘Border Czar’ Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and other Biden administration officials.” 

The bill would also declare it the sense of Congress that “President Biden should publicly denounce his administration’s immigration policies that resulted in the murder of Laken Riley.”

While the Laken Riley Act has received some bipartisan support in the House and in the Senate, it has attracted criticism from immigration and civil rights advocacy groups.

In a letter to members of the House, the American Civil Liberties Union called the Laken Riley Act “a serious threat to civil liberties that would inflict damage on an already taxed immigration system, invite racial profiling of longtime residents, and violate bedrock constitutional principles.”

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The ACLU pointed out that a person who was not even charged with or arrested for any crime whatsoever could be subject to mandatory detention–without a hearing–and even if immigration officials disagreed.

It also questioned whether the bill’s provision allowing states to sue the federal government would be constitutional, calling the proposed change an “inappropriate intrusion into the federal government’s authority and a misuse of the federal court system.”

Chance Phillips is a reporting intern at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can reach him at [email protected].

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