Jan 29 2021
Last September, my daughter Libby celebrated her twenty-first birthday. While the pandemic halted any large-scale birthday plans, I was glad that she and a few of her friends at the United States Military Academy were able to safely celebrate the occasion. She’s in her third year at West Point—recently got engaged—and I am so proud of her. And like any mother, I’d do anything for her.
That’s why, when I first heard the heart wrenching story of Sarah Root, I knew I had to do something. Sarah Root was a twenty-one year-old Iowan from Council Bluffs, not far from my home in Red Oak. On the night of her graduation, Sarah was tragically struck and killed by Edwin Mejia, who entered the country illegally and was driving drunk – three times over the legal limit. While Mejia was initially detained by local law enforcement and faced state charges of motor vehicle homicide, a loophole in U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) policy under the Obama Administration allowed him to post bond, disappear, and escape justice. Almost five years later, Mejia remains at-large.
Iowa families should be able to trust that the federal government will do everything possible to hold murderers accountable. That’s why, since 2016, I’ve been working to pass Sarah’s Law—my bill in honor of Sarah Root—which would require ICE to take custody of an illegal immigrant who is charged with a crime resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of another person. The legislation also requires ICE to make reasonable efforts to identify and provide relevant information to the crime victims or their families. 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.
Sarah’s Law is a commonsense effort that would prevent tragedies – like what happened to the Root family – from ever happening again. But sadly, partisan politics continue to get in the way of passing it.
The Trump Administration was successful in implementing parts of this important legislation through an executive order which prioritized prosecuting illegal immigrants convicted of violent crimes. But, as many expected, the Biden Administration is already working to roll back immigration enforcement.
But I’m not giving up—and neither is Sarah’s mom, Michelle, who has become a dear friend. As Michelle said, “I don’t get [Sarah] back after this. This [Sarah’s Law] is for everyone else. This is to help so the next person doesn’t have to go through the same thing.”
So this week, ahead of the fifth anniversary of Sarah’s death, I reintroduced Sarah’s Law with the support of nineteen of my colleagues—more than ever before.
It’s simple: Sarah’s Law brings us one step closer to restoring justice in our broken immigration system by allowing federal law enforcement to detain and prosecute violent criminals. With my friend Michelle Root by my side, I’m going to keep fighting to get this bill across the finish line—because that’s what any mom would do.
Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate.