Iowa senators raise more questions about fatal crash

Source: Des Moines Register

By Kathy A. Bolten

Senators from Iowa and Nebraska are raising questions about why a teenage immigrant who entered the United States illegally and is a fugitive after a fatal crash was placed with a brother whose immigration status is under scrutiny.

Council Bluffs resident Sarah Root, 21, died from injuries she received in a Jan. 31 car accident in Omaha.

Eswin Mejia, 19, was charged in the accident. Police say Mejia was driving drunk and street racing when his vehicle rammed into the rear of the SUV Root was driving.

A few days after Mejia posted bond, he failed to show up for a mandatory drug screening.

According to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Mejia entered the U.S. illegally in May 2013. Mejia, who was 16 at the time, was placed in a facility in Los Angeles. About a month later, he was placed with his brother, who lived in Tennessee. The family later moved to Omaha.

In a letter to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Iowa and Nebraska senators wrote that federal officials indicated Mejia’s brother was also in the U.S. illegally. The senators wrote Burwell on Wednesday that they were concerned that Mejia was released “to a sponsor who was reportedly in the United States illegally.”

Why Mejia was placed at the California facilityThe senators — Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst of Iowa and Deb Fisher and Ben Sasse of Nebraska — also asked Burwell a series of questions including:

  • How many people applied to be Mejia’s sponsor
  • What background checks were conducted on Mejia’s brother
  • Whether the agency checked in with the family after Mejia’s transfer

Burwell’s department has come under scrutiny after the Government Accountability Office released a report that said background checks were not regularly conducted on sponsors of minors who illegally entered the country.

The senators asked Burwell to respond to their questions by May 11.

Who's to blame for fugitive illegal immigrant?

The Mejia case has ignited a flurry of finger-pointing over who's to blame for letting him out of jail.

A local judge placed Mejia’s bond at $50,000, but he needed to post only 10 percent to gain his release.

Local law enforcement officials asked ICE to issue a detainer that would have kept Mejia in jail for a few additional days. The extra time could have potentially given local officials time to persuade ICE officials that Mejia was a flight risk.