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Jim Banks calls on Biden to 'publicly acknowledge' Laken Riley at SOTU

FIRST ON FOX: Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., penned a letter to President Joe Biden on Monday, calling on him to acknowledge the death of Georgia college student Laken Riley during his State of the Union address Thursday night. 

Riley, a 22-year-old nursing student at Augusta University, was killed last month and the suspect charged in relation to her death is Jose Ibarra, who was found to have illegally immigrated into the U.S. in 2022. 

"At just six years old, Laken knew she wanted to be a nurse so she could help people. She was living her dream until it was shattered by Joe Biden’s wide open border," Banks told Fox News Digital in a statement. "This was a totally avoidable tragedy. President Biden owes it to her family and the American people to say her name."

Banks implored Biden in the letter to "publicly acknowledge the Riley family’s tragedy" by speaking about their daughter Laken's death during the annual address to Congress. 

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The White House did not immediately respond to Fox News Digital's request for comment. 

"As Commander-in-Chief, it is your duty to protect American citizens, and this tragedy highlights the urgent need to address the surge in crime resulting from your negligence at our southern border," Banks wrote. 

The Indiana Republican, currently running for the Senate seat being vacated in 2025 by Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., further listed what he considered Biden's failures on the issues of the southern border and immigration. Banks noted Biden's reversals of Trump-era policies such as "Remain in Mexico," Title 42, and the building of a border wall. 

"Your failure to publicly acknowledge this tragedy is unacceptable," Banks added. 

Last week, the White House provided a statement to Fox News Digital regarding Riley's death. "We would like to extend our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones of Laken Hope Riley," a spokesperson said. "People should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law if they are found to be guilty. Given this is an active case, we would have to refer you to state law enforcement and ICE."

Biden, himself, has not addressed the death of Riley, despite being asked during a press conference if he bears any responsibility for it following a speech last week. 

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"You have a great opportunity to respect the wishes of Laken Riley's mother by breaking your silence and saying her name at the upcoming State of the Union address on Thursday, March 7, 2024," Banks told Biden in the letter. 

Riley's mother, Allyson Phillips, recently changed her Facebook profile picture to a heart in UGA's colors of Red and Black, with the hashtag "#SayHerName."

In addition to asking Biden to acknowledge Riley at his SOTU address, Banks also called on the president to "take swift and decisive action to secure the border. You can prevent further tragedies and ensure a safer future for all Americans."

2024/03/04 14:42

Jewish students from across US describe rampant campus antisemitism at House hearing: 'Wasteland of hatred'

Jewish students from across the country testified about the rampant antisemitism they are facing at their college campuses at a congressional hearing last week.

The House Committee on Education invited students to testify about their experiences on Thursday. The students described vicious antisemitic incidents happening at Harvard, Columbia, UC Berkeley and several other universities.

"Dirty. Dirty Jew monster. Colonizer. Child killer. These are the names we were given at Stanford. Labels that strip us of our humanity, our dignity and our identity. These are the names a dozen Stanford students hurled in my face one night in November as they surrounded me," Kevin Feigelis of Stanford University told lawmakers.

"They called my people dirty Jews that were disgusting monsters, that makes them sick to look at me. Me, who has been to Israel only once. Me, who grew up in New Jersey, one of the most diverse states of the country. Me, who was raised in a broken household by a single mother. Me, who had to fight tooth and nail to get where I am today. Why? They know nothing about me besides the fact that I wear a kippah on my head. That I am a Jew," he continued. 

He added: "It's open season for Jews on our campuses." 

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Another student, Joe Gindi, said antisemitism was surging at Rutgers University as well, arguing that some of the university's staff and administrators are "complicit" in the spread due to their inaction, and – in some cases – encouragement.

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"It is time to wake up America and understand what is happening on our college campuses," he said.

Shabbas Kestenbaum, a student at Harvard, said he and his classmates are resorting to legal measures.

"The situation at Harvard is so bad that we really only had two options. One was to come here, which we are doing, and the other was to hold them accountable in a court of law. We filed a lawsuit. I'm one of six plaintiffs who are making sure that if Harvard won't amend the terrible plague of antisemitism, that a court of law will. In terms of what you can be doing as United States Congress, number one subpoena, subpoena, subpoena. You would be horrified to see what is going on behind the scenes," he said.

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The students asked to participate in the hearing were Kestenbaum, Gindi and Feigelis as well as Noah Rubin, University of Pennsylvania; Talia Khan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Eden Yadegar, Columbia University; Hannah Beth Schlacter, University of California, Berkeley; Yasmeen Ohebsion, Tulane University; and Jacob Khalili, Cooper Union.

Their testimony came just days after California high school students walked out in protest after a Jewish student was called a "dirty Jew" and attacked last week.

Danielle Eshed, 15, said a student screamed antisemitic comments before attacking her in late February.

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"He called me a dirty Jew, and then I said something out of defense," Eshed told KTLA-TV Channel 5. "He said he was going to beat me up, and I didn’t believe him until he got up, pushed me and started punching me repeatedly in the neck and the back."

2024/03/04 14:19

Rise in Maryland juvenile auto thefts motivates lawmakers to pass juvenile justice bills

The Maryland House approved a measure on Friday designed to improve accountability and rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system in response to an increase in some crimes like auto theft and handgun violations in parts of the state.

The House, which is controlled by Democrats, voted 126-6 for the measure, with six Democrats opposing it. The Senate is moving forward with a largely similar bill, with some differences that the two chambers will need to work out.

Part of the bill that has been getting a lot of attention relates to how the state would handle auto theft cases involving children between 10 and 12, as authorities in Baltimore have cited an increase in juvenile auto thefts.

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Now, children under 13 can only be charged with violent offenses. Earlier in the session, lawmakers were considering expanding the jurisdiction of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services to children under 13 for firearms-related offenses, auto thefts, third-degree sexual offenses and aggravated animal abuse.

While the measures moving forward in the House and Senate are largely similar, they have made some changes in how they would handle cases involving children between 10 and 12 for auto thefts.

The measure approved by the House would direct them into a diversionary program for a first offense, instead of oversight by juvenile services, in hopes of changing their behavior without putting them into the juvenile justice system.

"To be clear, we are still in the midst of this process," said Del. Luke Clippinger, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Judiciary Committee and co-sponsored the legislation. "The Senate has passed this in a different way from the House, and there are going to be further conversations that are going to be ongoing."

For auto thefts, the Senate would use the state's Child in Need of Supervision process, in which people file complaints about children to the juvenile services department. Sen. Will Smith, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Proceedings Committee, said the CINS process does not allow for informal adjudication. The courts are involved, but children would not go to a detention center.

"We think this is the more elegant and proper and balanced approach, but we are going to conference and we’ll see where we land, but that’s where we are right now," Smith, a Montgomery County Democrat, said, referring to the negotiating process the two chambers enter to bridge differences in legislation.

On firearms, Smith said the Senate bill opens up some gun offenses to delinquency jurisdiction, which is discretionary.

"Firearms are inherently dangerous, and there are some very limited circumstances in which someone has to be in supervised housing, because their home situation is not good or because the individual is a threat to themselves or our society," Smith said.

Del. Jason Buckel, the House minority leader from western Maryland, said while the House measure isn’t perfect, it makes progress in addressing problems in the current law.

"It’s not perfect for me. It’s not perfect for a lot of others here, but I appreciate the work of those that put their time and effort into this to try to come up with something to acknowledge that there’s an issue, that there’s a problem, that we can do better, and I hope and encourage people to support the bill," Buckel said.

Opponents of the legislation contend lawmakers already are eroding reform efforts from just two years ago that limited the crimes children under the age of 13 could be criminally charged in order to address the disproportionate numbers of young minorities mired in the system.

2024/03/04 14:10

China-linked US pot farms spark raids, calls for stronger crackdowns

Law enforcement agencies from Maine to California say wealthy Chinese investors – and, many suspect, Communist party officials – are teaming up with Asian criminal organizations to take over the illicit marijuana trade in the U.S., generating enormous profits.

Some of the money is traced back to China, but it is also plowed back into U.S. real estate, generating cash flow for years to come.

Case in point: Friday in Los Angeles, where the LA County Sheriff’s Department raided three marijuana grow warehouses they identified as Chinese-operated-and-controlled.

"We've seen quite an influence or increase in the amount of Chinese, Asian-owned, Asian-operated marijuana cultivation sites in L.A. County since about 2021," said an undercover narcotics detective leading Friday’s operation. "Several million dollars in profits of what's here today and the criminal penalties are very minor."

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Reinforced steel doors protecting each warehouse required massive rotary cutting saws to breach the buildings. Inside the first location, the entry team found some 4,000 marijuana plants growing under bright lights. Plants in each room varied by age and height, allowing for multiple harvests year-round. The THC content measured 27%, making it a highly potent brand of cannabis that would command a premium on the street – especially in large cities on the East Coast.

"We've tracked millions of dollars a month coming out of some of these small shops going to overseas," said the detective, referring to the grow house operating behind a pottery outlet on a busy street in the LA suburb of El Monte. "This site had a little over 4,000 marijuana plants. At today's yield, that's somewhere around $2 million to $3 million at wholesale value."

Officials at the state Bureau of Cannabis Control said large Chinese grow operations have been dominating California – from suburban Riverside and San Bernardino Counties to homes in the Bay Area, up to the so-called Emerald Triangle near the Oregon border, the hub of state cannabis production. 

"We've seen just tremendous explosion of Chinese folks coming in and buying land and then growing illegal marijuana," Siskiyou County Sheriff Jeremiah LaRue told Fox News. "This scale that we're talking, I mean, we're talking thousands of different illegal grows within our community, and it's just perpetuated a lot of violence."

Arial images showed how marijuana cultivation in Siskiyou County has exploded since 2017, with as many as 8,000 grow houses now dotting the rural landscape. Each grow has averaged around a dozen acres with four to five plastic-covered "hoop houses" on site, each containing several hundred marijuana plants inside.

"Because it's so profitable and there's really hardly any consequences, the growth just continues," LaRue said. "In some instances, the money is going directly back to China. As for the workers, essentially, they're trafficking in labor, to do the cultivation. Seventy-five percent or more are undocumented individuals that we're running into, and in the last few years, those numbers have increased dramatically."

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A federal official who asked not to be named said the Chinese operations have been "highly sophisticted, multi-layer operations and very hard to crack. Most of the labor is trafficked and they won't give us any meaningful information. The person on the deed is a nobody and the cases have very little prosecutorial appeal. Growing marijuana without a license is a misdemeanor and [subject to a] $500 fine. The owners flip the house and move on."

Officials say the Chinese are active not just in California. In Oklahoma, the state Bureau of Narcotics has estimated 2,000 marijuana farms with a Chinese connection. Last Thursday, the bureau shut down a massive grow, seizing 82,979 plants and 1,955 pounds of processed marijuana, putting the street value at $300 million. Agents detained several Asian warehouse workers and arrested a 36-year-old Chinese woman for her alleged involvement in the operation.

The Department of Homeland Security also identified 270 grow operations in Maine connected to the Chinese. The agency last year began a "national intelligence-gathering initiative" to assess Chinese involvement, asking local law enforcement to alert the department if they've encountered Asian and Chinese trans-national criminal organizations in their investigations. 

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Last week, 50 members of Congress asked the Justice Department for a briefing on illegal marijuana farms linked to Chinese nationals, citing the DHS effort.

"There is substantial evidence implicating the [Chinese Communist Party] in directly supporting illicit marijuana grow operations across the United States," the lawmakers wrote. "Further, the same DHS document indicated 270 suspected illicit marijuana operations in rural Maine generated an estimated $4.37 billion in revenue, far outpacing the $158 million from the state’s legal marijuana market last year… This issue is not limited to the illegal cultivation and distribution of marijuana. Allowing illicit marijuana farms tied to the CCP is a continued threat to national security, public safety, and human rights."

"We know that this money is being funneled back to China," Rep. Jay Obernolte, R-Calif., one of the lawkmakers who signed the letter, told Fox News, "so the Chinese are using this as a moneymaking operation and also as an operation to destabilize life in the United States. The wide-open southern border is catalyzing this problem because the cartels are trafficking people across the border, and they're establishing these camps and they lock them in. It's a human catastrophe for everybody. 

"Recently we've become concerned about some findings that the Chinese Communist Party is behind this newest wave of illegal grows. That's certainly happened. In my district, we've had some identified activity that's tied to the CCP, and so, that's why we are asking the DOJ to share with us the information that it's gathered, and to give us a briefing on what it is doing and what can be done to try and rectify this problem."

2024/03/04 14:05

Appeals court to allow Texas immigration law that criminalizes illegal migrant crossings

An appeals court on Saturday reversed a lower court’s decision to block Texas from enforcing a new state law that would make illegal immigration a state crime.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals went against U.S. District Judge David A. Ezra's order to block Texas' Senate Bill 4 but also put its own ruling on hold for seven days should the Biden administration want to appeal to the Supreme Court.

The new law allows state authorities to arrest and jail illegal immigrants and would give state judges the power to order deportations. 

The law was initially set to go into effect on March 5 but will now be put on hold until March 9 unless the Supreme Court intervenes.

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Ezra, who presides in the Western District of Texas, ruled last week that states "may not exercise immigration enforcement power except as authorized by the federal government."

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, however, maintained that the state "has the right to defend itself" from the invasion at our southern border."

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"Texas will immediately appeal this decision, and we will not back down in our fight to protect our state – and our nation – from President Biden's border crisis," Abbott said in a statement at the time.

The law was one of several moves by Texas to curb the flow of migrants into the state. Abbott has repeatedly accused the Biden administration of failing to enforce immigration laws amid record numbers of migrant entries and encounters at the southern border. 

Fox News’ Louis Casiano contributed to this report.

2024/03/04 13:57

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