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Ernst Calls on Senate to Pass Sarah’s Law

Our laws can no longer prioritize illegal immigrants over Americans.

WASHINGTON – After another young American lost her life at the hands of an illegal immigrant, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) today spoke on the Senate floor and renewed her call for the Senate to pass Sarah’s Law to require federal law enforcement to detain illegal immigrants criminally charged with killing or seriously injuring another person.

Eight years ago, on the night of her graduation, Sarah Root, a 21-year-old from Council Bluffs, Iowa, was struck and killed by an illegal immigrant who was driving drunk – three times over the legal limit. Due to a gap in federal law, Sarah’s killer was released by federal law enforcement and never faced justice.

After Democrats obstructed her effort and advocated against detaining violent illegal immigrants, Ernst pushed back and promised to continue the fight to pass Sarah’s Law.

sarah's law floor speech

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Ernst’s full remarks:

“Today, I rise to tell a preventable, horrific story.

22-year old Laken Riley – a nursing student – was killed by an illegal immigrant.

This bright young woman had her whole life ahead of her.

She represented what our country needs more of — a life dedicated to caring for others.

Like all Iowans, my heart goes out to her family and her friends who continue to grieve this tragic loss.  

The reality is: Laken’s heartbreaking story did not have to happen.

In 2022, Jose Antonio Ibarra illegally crossed over the border into El Paso and claimed asylum.

Instead of being detained while he was processed, he was released into our country – never to be heard from again.

That is, folks, until he was arrested in New York City for endangering a child.

Was he held to face trial for this crime in New York City? Nope.

Was he deported for this crime, or even for coming here illegally? Nope.

New York officials released him so quickly that ICE couldn’t even try to lodge a detainer – even if they wanted to.

Meanwhile, Ibarra made his way to Georgia, where he disfigured and killed an innocent, young girl who was simply out for a jog.

Madam President, this could have been avoided, but Biden’s failure to enforce the laws at our border allowed it to happen.

How many young Americans must die, how many families must be ripped apart for this administration to wake up and take border security seriously?

For more than eight years, I have warned against the dangers of letting illegal immigrants – who have already broken our laws, again, those who have broken our laws – roam the country and continue their lawlessness.

I have repeatedly called on this body to step up and protect innocent Americans from criminals who are here in our country illegally and pass my bill – Sarah’s Law.

Eight years ago, Iowans Michelle and Scott Root woke up to every parent’s worst nightmare: Their daughter, Sarah – right here, beautiful Sarah Root – was 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 her important life milestone with family and friends.

She had her entire life ahead of her.

But while she was stopped at a traffic light, Sarah was struck and killed by Edwin Mejia, an illegal immigrant.

His blood alcohol level was three times over the legal limit.

One would think her killer would clearly meet Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s ‘enforcement priorities.’

But no. Nope.

Citing the Obama administration’s November 2014 memo on immigration enforcement priorities, ICE declined to 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 just like in the past, folks, he disappeared, never to be seen again.

Now, here we are, folks, we are over eight years later –  Sarah’s killer is still at large – after that five thousand bucks – and able to carelessly harm others.

To rub salt in the wound, the Biden administration has removed Mejia from ICE’s Most Wanted list.

No big deal, right?

No parent should have to endure the pain of losing a child like the Root family did – and I know them personally.

But unfortunately, the Riley family is experiencing this same heartbreak.

A loophole in our law means Sarah’s killer escaped justice.

But today, we can do something to ensure no other family has to go through the pain Sarah’s parents have felt every day for eight long years.

My bill – named in Sarah’s honor – would close the alarming loophole that let Sarah’s killer go free.

It would merely require ICE to detain – just to detain – otherwise deportable illegal immigrants charged with killing or seriously injuring another person.

Is that too much to ask – to detain someone who has killed another American?

It also requires ICE to inform victims and family members of critical information pertaining to the investigation.

Right now, family members are left in the dark.

Had Sarah’s Law been enacted at the time of her death, law enforcement would have detained her killer instead of allowing him 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 should be an easy one, folks.

Sarah and Laken’s deaths are both tragic and, unfortunately, are doomed to be repeated, thanks to this administration’s broken and ill-informed policies.

Those who come here illegally and harm our citizens should, without question, be a priority for removal.

It’s just common sense, folks.

Otherwise deportable illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes – they commit them here, they should face justice.

We can no longer prioritize illegal immigrants over public safety.

We must pass Sarah’s Law to send this message loud and clear – for Sarah’s family, for Laken’s family, and for the countless American families that Sarah’s Law would protect.”