(Washington, DC) U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) yesterday spoke on the Senate floor to honor the life of Sarah Root, a young Iowan allegedly killed by an illegal immigrant, Eswin Mejia. The Iowa Senator also called for answers as to why the Obama Administration neglected to detain Mejia. Ernst’s remarks followed a joint letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seeking clarification about the administration’s failure to act, which ICE has yet to respond to.
Mr. President, I rise today to echo the sentiments shared by our senior Senator from Iowa, Chuck Grassley. Tomorrow morning, one of my constituents, Michelle Root, will be testifying before the House Judiciary Committee about the loss of her beautiful young daughter, Sarah Root.
As a mother to three daughters myself, I cannot begin to fathom the pain and anguish Ms. Root is experiencing.
Earlier this year, 21-year old Sarah Root was killed by a drunk driver. That driver, Eswin Mejia, was allegedly drag racing with a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit when he crashed into the back of Sarah’s vehicle.
Eswin Mejia is also an illegal immigrant. After causing the death of an American citizen and being charged with motor-vehicle homicide, one would think he would clearly meet U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s so-called “Enforcement Priorities.”
But no. No. Citing the Administration’s November 2014 memo on immigration enforcement priorities, ICE declined to lodge a detainer and take custody of Mejia.
During a recent Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, ICE Director Sarah Saldana actually suggested that ICE neglected to issue a detainer because at the time they were contacted, Sarah Root was seriously injured, not dead.
How twisted and convoluted has our immigration system become that an illegal immigrant who – while driving drunk and drag racing – hits and either seriously injures or kills an American citizen is not considered a priority for deportation?
In fact, only after a floor speech, multiple letters, and hearing questions from Senators from Nebraska and Iowa, as well as media attention and concerns raised by the Root family, did ICE finally acknowledge that they should have taken Mejia into custody.
It should not take all of those actions for ICE to determine that an illegal immigrant who kills an American citizen should be removed from our country.
Tragically, after ICE declined to file a detainer against Mejia, he posted a $5,000 bond, was released, and has since disappeared. This despite the fact that he had a history of skipping court dates relating to prior driving offenses.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with Sarah’s dad, who told me that before they could even lay their daughter to rest, Mejia was released.
This is truly an injustice, and we must do everything we can to ensure that we get answers in this case and prevent a similar tragedy from being replicated elsewhere.
While America has been and always will be a nation of immigrants, we are also a nation of laws.
It is a privilege to live in this country, and anyone who comes here illegally and harms our citizens should – without question – constitute a priority for removal.
For ICE to decide otherwise is baffling. In recognition of their clear mistake, they have since listed Mejia on their “Most Wanted” list and acknowledged they should have taken him into custody.
The photograph of Sarah behind me was taken as she celebrated her graduation from Bellevue University – with a 4.0 GPA and a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Investigations – and prepared to begin a bright future. The next day, she was killed.
While nothing can bring Sarah back, her family and friends deserve clear answers as to why Mejia was allowed to flee.
This tragedy further underscores the Administration’s failed immigration enforcement priorities and should serve to spur renewed discussion about their so-called “priorities.”
Thank you Mr. President. I yield the floor.