The murder of a 22-year-old nursing student in Athens Georgia could decide the US presidential elections

By Abby Amoakuh

Updated Mar 2, 2024 at 12:40 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

Hello and welcome to another edition of our weekly recaps for the upcoming 2024 presidential election! This week, we have something really special in store for you. We’re going to be delving into how one local tragedy could end up determining the course of the upcoming political battle between Donald Trump and Joe Biden.

What happened to Laken Riley?

On 22 February 2024, the police in Georgia received a call from a friend of 22-year-old Laken Riley. They were concerned that she had not returned from a morning run at a local field and around 20 minutes later, officers were dispatched to the scene to look for Riley. Unfortunately, her disfigured body was discovered in the field, sparking a national debate about immigration and security.

Riley’s body was found in a wooded area behind Lake Herrick. The young woman had obtained “visible injuries,” including a defaced skull. Despite officers administering emergency aid on the scene, the 22-year-old was pronounced dead shortly after.

The police identified the murder suspect as a 26-year-old Venezuelan man who entered the US illegally, pushing the case from a local tragedy to the centre of a national immigration debate.

The suspect allegedly used an object to attack Riley before concealing her body in the woods, police said, as reported by The Times.

Consequently, Republican politicians and voters across the nation used the case as an opportunity to state that the Biden administration has not done enough to prevent illegal immigration and toughen detentions of undocumented migrants.

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump even took it upon himself to visit Eagle Pass, Texas, which borders Mexico. During his visit, he expressed his condolences to Riley’s family and promised mass deportations if elected.

“A beautiful 22-year-old nursing student from Georgia was barbarically attacked,” he said. “She was on a morning run… she was on a morning run to keep herself in shape. She was a beautiful young woman,” Trump said of Riley. “I spoke to her parents yesterday, they are incredible people. They are devastated beyond belief. She was so beautiful in so many ways.”

He continued: “The monster, the charge, charged in the death is an illegal alien migrant who was led into our country and released into our communities by Crooked Joe Biden,” Trump said, adding that he “took the name from Hillary because she’s no longer relevant, I guess.”

Migrant arrivals at the border have risen to record highs during President Joe Biden’s administration, with polls suggesting that more than two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the issue. The newfound attention that Riley’s death is bringing to the already polarising and politically unpredictable issue of immigration could potentially pose a threat to Biden’s reelection.

The transfer of power in 2020 played a key role in the intensifying border crisis, according to the BBC.

Although most of Trump’s immigration plans like building a wall never came to fruition, the arising headlines created the impression that the US was closing its borders. However, with the Biden administration, there was a shift in both tone and policy with deportations falling and no talk of a wall.

Migrants got the impression that the US was loosening its policies again, leading to increased immigration.

This, alongside Biden’s fading appeal to young voters, is undoubtedly another hurdle on his road to reelection.

While Trump’s attempt to villainise immigrants at large was not met with approval from either side of both the voting and political aisles (#Trumpisnotwell is trending again), it is becoming obvious that the tragic death of Laken Riley has handed Republicans another asset to portray immigrants as the root of most trouble and degenerate Biden in the coming weeks.

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