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Murder of Houston girl part of Trump's attack on Biden's immigration policies during debate

Side-by-side photos of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden during a presidential debate hosted by CNN, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta.
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Side-by-side photos of Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump, left, and President Joe Biden during a presidential debate hosted by CNN, Thursday, June 27, 2024, in Atlanta.

The death of 12-year-old Houstonian Jocelyn Nungaray, who authorities said was murdered by two undocumented migrants earlier this month, came into play during Thursday’s presidential debate as the candidates criticized each other over immigration.

Nungaray was found strangled to death earlier this month in a shallow creek after authorities said she left her family’s apartment on June 16. Johan Jose Martinez-Rangel, 22, and Franklin Jose Peña Ramos, 26, Venezuelan nationals who federal agents have said crossed the border illegally, were arrested and charged with her murder.

The men entered the United States earlier this year; both were apprehended by U.S. Border Patrol agents near El Paso and later released with an order to appear in immigration court.

During Thursday’s debate, former President Donald Trump didn’t mention Nungaray by name but included her death as one three recent killings authorities alleged were committed by undocumented immigrants. The others were Laken Riley, 22, in Georgia in February, and Rachel Morin, 37, who was killed last year in Maryland.

“They are killing our citizens at a level we’ve never seen before. And you are reading it. Like these incredible young girls over the last few days,” Trump said. “One of them, I just spoke to the mother. They just had a funeral for this girl. She’s 12 years old. This is horrible what’s taken place.”

Trump reportedly spoke with Nungaray’s mother, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Immigration and, specifically, President Joe Biden’s border policies were expected to be major themes Thursday as the number of unauthorized migrants that have been encountered at the country’s southern border have reached record levels.

Trump often deviated from other topics – including the economy, Social Security and job growth – to attack Biden on immigration. He said several times that foreign governments are emptying their prisons and mental-health institutions and fueling migration to the United States, a claim that analysts have debunked.

Gov. Greg Abbott chimed in quickly after the debate via a statement from his campaign that said the country “can’t survive” another four years under Biden.

“Under President Biden, our nation has experienced an unprecedented crisis at our southern border with record-high numbers of illegal immigrants, weapons, and deadly drugs like fentanyl entering our country. President Biden’s dangerous open border policies have already allowed over 11 million illegal immigrants — including dangerous criminals, gang members, and known terrorists — into our country,” Abbott stated.

While Republicans focus on the alleged crimes some migrants are charged with, Democrats and immigrant rights supporters point to statistics that show immigrants commit fewer crimes that U.S. citizens.

A recent reportby the CATO Institute found that in Texas, the homicide rate is slightly lower for migrants.

“The conviction and arrest rates of illegal and legal immigrants, separately and together, were lower than those of native‐born Americans for homicide and all crimes in Texas during the 2013-2022 period,” according to the report.

For his part, Biden touted the recent drop in authorized crossings – a dip of about 40 % this month – which he credited to an executive order he implemented in June. The order drastically restricts the number of migrants allowed to seek asylum when unauthorized crossings peak.

But analysts caution that the Biden administration could be overselling the results. Migrant apprehensions tend to drop after a major policy shift before ticking up again. The Mexican government has also strengthened its efforts to deter migrants from passing through the country en route to the U.S.