Death of Jocelyn Nungaray fuels Trump-Biden debate on immigration

The White House and Biden campaign responded Friday to the death of a 12-year-old girl in Houston after two suspects charged with capital murder were found to be undocumented migrants.

Jocelyn Nungaray was discovered Monday in a shallow creek after being strangled to death, according to the Houston Police Department.

A White House spokesperson said “our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of Jocelyn Nungaray.”

“We cannot comment on active law enforcement cases,” the spokesperson continued. “But fundamentally, anyone found guilty of this type of heinous and shocking crime should be held accountable, to the fullest extent of the law.”

12-year-old Jocelyn Nungaray.Houston Police Department

Johan Jose Martinez-Rangel, 22, and Franklin Pena, 26, have been arrested and charged with her murder. The suspects crossed the border illegally this year and were released into the U.S. by border patrol, according to immigration authorities.

The two men had immigration violation holds from Immigration and Customs Enforcement on their court records.

The White House response comes as immigration and border security has become a top issue for voters heading into the November election. An NBC News poll from April found that 22% of registered voters said that immigration and the situation at the border was the most important issue facing the country.

Former President Donald Trump is blaming the Biden administration’s border policies for Nungaray’s death. On Thursday, he said on Truth Social that “we have a new Biden Migrant Killing — It’s only going to get worse, and it’s all Crooked Joe Biden’s fault.”

The Biden campaign hit back, pointing to Trump’s role in sinking a bipartisan border deal in Congress.

“Donald Trump is making Americans less safe by blocking the border deal,” said Biden campaign spokesperson Lauren Hitt in a statement.

An NBC News review of city data from June shows overall crime levels dropping in major cities that have received the most migrants from Texas, including Chicago, New York City and Washington, D.C.

Nungaray’s death is the latest suspected murder by migrants, which has led to political firestorms, even as studies have shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than U.S.-born citizens.

The man charged with Laken Riley’s murder, Jose Antonio Ibarra, was previously arrested after crossing the border into the U.S.

Trump has invoked Riley’s death in his push for the White House, and Biden referred to Ibarra as “an illegal” during his State of the Union address, a term he later said he regretted using.

Trump has also highlighted the case of Ruby Garcia, who was allegedly murdered by an undocumented immigrant. He said during an April campaign event that he spoke with Garcia’s family, a claim Garcia’s sister denied.