Laken Riley murder: Immigration attorney explains suspect’s path from Venezuela to Georgia

CLARKE COUNTY, Ga. — Answers are surfacing about how Jose Ibarra, 26, managed to get into the United States, get arrested in New York, and make it to Georgia where police accuse him of murdering Laken Riley.

Riley, 22, was attacked while she was running on the University of Georgia’s intramural fields Thursday, according to the UGA Police Department.

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued the following statement on Sunday that said, “U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested Ibarra Sept. 8, 2022, after he unlawfully entered the United States near El Paso, Texas. He was paroled and released for further processing.”

After receiving that update, Channel 2′s Courtney Francisco spoke to immigration attorney Joshua McCall on WSB Tonight at 11 p.m., who’s worked hundreds of cases in Georgia.

“Paroled and released means immigration officials take stock,” said McCall. “They ask questions. They ask if they’re planning on applying for asylum, for example, and they make a judgment call on whether they should keep them or let them go. Often, they will run their fingerprints against an international crime database.”

McCall said, usually, agents ensure the immigrant has a stable address and will send them there.

“In fact, they usually won’t parole and release them unless they provide an address, and they often verify someone living at that address is ready to receive them,” said McCall.

He said once there, the immigrant is expected to follow up to obtain proper documentation through the court system.

Instead, ICE said Ibarra ended up getting arrested in New York a year later.

Officers said he was driving in an uninsured, unregistered car with a 5-year-old and was charged with acting in a manner to injure a child.

ICE said in a statement, “He was released by the NYPD before a detainer could be issued.”

“You are innocent until proven guilty. So, they released him,” said McCall. “ICE often tries to put a detainer, that’s a request for them to detain that person for 48 hours, so they can pick them up for immigration violations, but local jails don’t have to do it. Sometimes, they don’t have the space and sometimes they don’t have the personnel to work with ICE to keep them in place.”

He said ICE agents could have searched for Ibarra after his release and may have done so. However, once in Georgia, McCall said Ibarra could have been off the map.


Now that he’s in the Athens-Clark County Jail facing murder charges, ICE has lodged a detainer against him.

That means he could be deported at any time, even before a murder trial, if the county wants that. McCall said counties usually choose for immigrants to stand trial and serve a sentence in the U.S. if convicted in order to offer justice to families of victims.

Channel 2 Action News will continue monitoring how the county moves forward in this case.

ICE also has a hold to deport Ibarra’s brother, Diego Ibarra, 29. Diego Ibarra is in the Athens-Clark County Jail accused of providing a false green card to law enforcement Friday when they were searching for his brother in the murder case.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Diego Ibarra crossed into the U.S. a few months after his brother.

Border control said they sent him to New York due to a credible fear claim for asylum. However, he did not follow up to apply for asylum in the court system.

He eventually made his way down to Athens, Georgia where he was charged three times in 2023 with driving drunk without a license, shoplifting, and failing to fingerprint.

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