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Laken Riley did not have to die

Biden’s border policies have been a disaster for Americans but a bonanza for cartels


Mourners gather for a vigil for Laken Riley at the University of Georgia campus in Athens, Ga., on Feb. 26. Associated Press/Photo by Joshua L. Jones/Athens Banner-Herald

Laken Riley did not have to die
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The first three years of the Biden administration have set records for illegal border crossings, but for Americans who don’t live on the border it may have felt like someone else’s problem. But the murder of a Georgia nursing student by an illegal immigrant with repeat run-ins with the authorities may be changing that. While we don’t all have property on the border, a lot of us, like me, have daughters.

Laken Riley was jogging in Athens, Ga.—far from the border—when she was killed by a Venezuelan national first detained by Customs and Border Protection in September of 2022 when he entered the country illegally. He was quickly released into the country. He was arrested again in August of 2023 in New York but despite awareness that he was in the country illegally he was again quickly released. And now everyone knows the rest of the tragic story.

While it’s recognized that government can’t eliminate all risk of harm, the public does have a reasonable expectation that it will try. Unfortunately, one could look at our current policy cocktail and conclude more crime is actually the goal. How else do you explain  national efforts to defund the police at the same time you open the border to all comers?

One of the first things President Joe Biden did when he took office was revoke the Remain in Mexico policy in place during the Trump administration. That policy required asylum seekers to prove the legitimacy of their claim before entering the country. These days, all you have to do is say the word “asylum” and you’ll be given entry as long as you pinky promise to come back for your hearing. It’s like a car dealership selling cars in exchange for an IOU written with crayon on a three-by-five card. You shouldn’t be surprised by the interest you generate or the problems that result.

The border town of Eagle Pass, Texas, regularly reports more than 10,000 illegal crossings per day with some days exceeding 12,000 people. In a town with a total population of less than 30,000, this is beyond disruptive.

One of the first things President Biden did when he took office was revoke the Remain in Mexico policy in place during the Trump administration.

While most migrants likely intend no harm and are seeking a better way of life in America, with 10 million illegal crossings so far during the Biden administration, even a small percentage intent on harm poses a tremendous national security threat. When it comes to gun control, we’re told that saving even one life is worth whatever it takes. But when it comes to border policy, it seems all losses are acceptable losses as long as we can avoid the inevitable accusations of racism that follow any effort to secure the border.

While the Biden administration’s border policy has been a disaster for many American cities, it hasn’t been bad for everyone. A recent House Budget Committee report found that cartels are making nearly $1 billion per month moving people and drugs across the U.S. border. Cartels are able to charge $8,000 per person. As far back as 2019, U.S. Customs and Immigration was reporting that smuggling people had become more profitable than smuggling drugs, and now the number of people crossing the border has skyrocketed. It isn’t hyperbole to say Joe Biden is the best thing that ever happened to Mexican cartels. A dubious legacy, to be sure.

Daniel Horowitz recently reported that Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro is seizing the opportunity of an open U.S. border to send the country’s criminals to the U.S. We can all understand why Maduro would want to do that, but Americans want to know why we would allow ourselves to become the world’s penal colony.

Even before Laken Riley’s senseless and preventable murder, most Americans, including Democrats, disapproved of the Biden administration’s management of the southern border. This demonstrates that even in these hyperpartisan times, there are some values the American people still share. It is right and good to prioritize the interests of our daughters over the interests of illegal immigrants who have no natural right to citizenship. Presently, it is unclear to many if our current leadership shares those priorities. If that ambiguity remains, we should expect results at the ballot box to reflect that dissonance—because we all live on the border now.

Correction: Joe Biden was not president in 2019, when smuggling people became more profitable than smuggling drugs. This story has been corrected to reflect that fact.


Joseph Backholm

Joseph Backholm is senior fellow for Biblical worldview and strategic engagement at the Family Research Council. Previously, he served as a legislative attorney and spent 10 years as the president and general counsel of the Family Policy Institute of Washington. He also served as legal counsel and director of What Would You Say? at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview where he developed and launched a YouTube channel of the same name. His YouTube life began when he identified as a 6-foot-5 Chinese woman in a series of YouTube videos exploring the logic of gender identity. He and his wife Brook have four children.


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