Eight years ago this week, Iowans Michelle and Scott Root woke up to every parent’s worst nightmare: Their daughter, Sarah, had been killed by a drunk driver.
Sarah, a 21-year-old from Council Bluffs, had just graduated from Bellevue University in Nebraska with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor’s degree in criminal investigations. She was headed home after celebrating the hard-earned milestone with her friends and family. She had her entire future ahead of her.
But while stopped at a traffic light, Sarah was struck and killed by Edwin, or “Eswin,” Mejia, an illegal immigrant with a blood alcohol level three times over the legal limit.
One would think her killer would clearly meet Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s “enforcement priorities.”
But no. Citing the Obama administration’s November 2014 memo on immigration enforcement priorities, ICE declined to lodge a detainer and take custody of Mejia despite his repeated driving offenses and history of skipping court dates.
Before the Root family could even lay their daughter to rest, Mejia posted a $5,000 bond, was released, and disappeared.
Now, eight years later, Sarah’s killer is still at large. To rub salt in the wound, the Biden administration has removed Mejia from ICE’s Most Wanted list.
No parent should have to endure the pain of losing a child like the Root family did. That’s why, since 2016, I’ve been working to pass Sarah’s Law. Last year, I reintroduced the bill in the Senate, with Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-IA) leading the fight in the House.
The law would close the alarming loophole that let Sarah’s killer go free by requiring ICE to detain illegal immigrants criminally charged with killing or seriously injuring another person. It also requires ICE to inform victims and family members of critical information pertaining to the investigation.
Under this bill, Sarah’s killer would have been detained by law enforcement and not allowed to flee from justice. The Root family would have been kept up to date on his status and federal immigration authorities’ efforts to remove him from the country.
Simply put, this is the most commonsense reform we can make.
Sarah’s death is tragic and, unfortunately, repeatable as a result of broken and ill-informed policies.
In fact, December marked the highest month of illegal border crossings ever recorded, with at least 50 people on the terrorist watchlist crossing the border this fiscal year. President Joe Biden can’t bring himself to care.
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 those who come here illegally and harm our citizens should, without question, constitute a priority for removal.
Biden’s intentional failure to secure our border and hold the cartels accountable has real consequences. A simple fix, such as Sarah’s Law, is an important step that could be taken today.
We can no longer prioritize illegal immigrants over the safety of the public. We must pass Sarah’s Law to send this message loud and clear.
Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate.
This piece first appeared in the Washington Examiner.