Iowa Senator Also Raised Concerns on Rise of ISIS in Southeast Asia
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing, “Fifteen Years After 9/11: Threats to the Homeland,” Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) pressed Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson for updates on the whereabouts of Edwin Mejia. Mejia is an illegal immigrant who struck and killed 21-year-old Iowan Sarah Root while driving drunk and drag racing, and has since disappeared after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) declined to detain him as an enforcement priority.
Senator Ernst: “Do you have any updates from the Department on where Mejia is located?”
Secretary Johnson: “I know from my communications with Senator Sasse, as I told him, we along with local law enforcement are looking for him.”
Senator Ernst: “Do you believe him to be in the country or elsewhere?”
Secretary Johnson: “I could not say.”
Senator Ernst also sought answers on whether ICE has since updated their so-called “enforcement priorities” to ensure that an illegal immigrant charged with killing an American is considered a priority for detention and deportation.
The Senator’s questioning follows her introduction of Sarah’s Law earlier this year, which would require ICE to take custody of an individual who is in the country illegally and charged with a crime resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of another person, and her multiple inquiries to ICE and the Department of Health and Human Services seeking answers on Mejia’s whereabouts and the reason he was not detained by ICE.
In addition, Senator Ernst questioned witnesses Nicholas Rasmussen, the Director of the National Counterterrorism Center; James Comey, Director of the FBI; and Secretary Johnson on the alarming rise of ISIS in Southeast Asia and its impact on our national security.
Rasmussen, who recently returned from the region, echoed the Senator’s concern that the ISIS ideology “could find fertile ground” in places like Southeast Asia. Rasmussen emphasized that “in the period after 9-11, Southeast Asia was a very active theatre for al-Qaeda and the al-Qaeda affiliated organization Jemaah Islamiyah, posed a major threat in Southeast Asia to U.S. interests and to the interests of our partners. So, we have known looking back that this was always a potential hot zone where ISIL might find the possibility to take root.”
Rasmussen also warned that “there are foreign fighters from that region who have made their way into Iraq and Syria, those individuals seek to identify individuals to send back to or to connect with back in their home countries. So the same phenomenon that the Europeans are dealing with, that our other partners are dealing with is being seen in Southeast Asia.”
Senator Ernst’s questioning today follows a hearing last week with Secretary of Defense Ash Carter and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford where she pressed them on a strategy to combat ISIS in Asia, and recent remarks on the Senate floor as well as her column in TIME on the spread of ISIS in Asia.
To watch Senator Ernst’s questioning, click here or the image below.