Tester becomes first Democrat to co-sponsor Laken Riley Act after voting against it as amendment

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) on Thursday became the first Senate Democrat to co-sponsor the Laken Riley Act, which is named after the 22-year-old nursing student who was killed on the University of Georgia’s campus by a Venezuelan migrant.

Tester’s co-sponsorship of the measure is notable because he voted against it when it was offered as an amendment to a spending package funding the departments of Defense and Homeland Security along with other priorities.

Adding the controversial language to the broader package could have derailed the bipartisan spending deal.

Tester said last month he would support the Laken Riley Act as a stand-alone bill.

The legislation would require federal officials to apprehend and detain illegal immigrants who commit certain crimes until they can be removed from the United States.

Tester’s support for the bill, which passed the House by a large bipartisan majority, shows the growing salience of border security as an issue ahead of the 2024 election.

“After hearing from law enforcement officers across Montana, I’m backing the Laken Riley Act to make sure that individuals who enter our country and commit a crime are held accountable so that no Montana family has to worry about the safety of their loved ones,” he said in a statement.

Tester, who is running for reelection in a state that voted twice for former President Trump, is one of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents.

He said keeping Montana safe is his top priority, and that’s why “I’ve repeatedly called on the Biden Administration and Congress to do more to secure the southern border.”

The bill would require U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to apprehend illegal immigrants who commit theft, burglary, larceny or shoplifting and detain them until they are removed from the county.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee quickly pointed out Tester voted against the Laken Riley Act when it was offered as an amendment sponsored by Sens. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) and Katie Britt (R-Ala.) to a must-pass appropriations bill.

Tester, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, however, pointed out that he has secured what his office described as “significant wins for border security” in a $1.2 trillion government funding package.

He helped appropriate funding for 22,000 border patrol agents, 150 new Customs and Border Protection points of entry, and 41,500 new detention beds in the bill.

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