Sen. Ernst's Bill Would Punish Violent Illegal Immigrants. Democrats Still Opposed.

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Posted: Aug 06, 2020 11:55 AM
Sen. Ernst's Bill Would Punish Violent Illegal Immigrants. Democrats Still Opposed.

Source: Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP

Washington lawmakers like to talk, but don't get things done, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) noted on the Senate floor on Thursday. Particularly when it comes to immigration. One commonsense way to address illegal immigration, she explained, is to pass Sarah's Law.

On Jan. 31, 2016, 21-year-old Iowan Sarah Root was killed by an illegal immigrant in Omaha, Neb. on the same day as her college graduation. The illegal, Edwin Mejia, was drag racing with a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. And yet, ICE failed to detain him "because of a nonsensical policy" that allows ICE to use discretion whether to detain illegals charged with a crime.

So, instead of being thrown in jail or deported, Mejia posted bond, was released, and then disappeared. More than four years later, "he remains a fugitive, denying Sarah's loved ones any sense of justice," Ernst regretted.

"As a mother I cannot fathom the grief her family and friends continue to feel after such a devastating loss," she said.

Sarah's Law, Ernst explained, can ensure that ICE "never makes the same mistake again" and "end this senseless madness." Sarah's Law would let ICE take custody of an illegal immigrant charged with a crime that seriously injures another person. It would also mandate better victim notification system to let families know what happened to their loved ones.

"Who could be opposed to this?" she wondered. 

Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, for starters. In his retort, Udall suggested that Sarah's Law "paints immigrants as more dangerous than other people." He argued that the bill does nothing to improve the immigration system and instead imposes "unreviewable detention on immigrants simply charged on certain crimes." He argued that it is not consistent with due process. Finally, he suggested that the Senate should not be legislating on immigration matters until they take action to permanently protect DREAMers.

Again, Sen. Ernst had to remind him that she's "not talking about overall immigration debate." 

"We are talking about justice," she insisted.

Ernst's fellow Iowan senator, Chuck Grassley, joined her. Like Ernst, Grassley was shocked that Democrats are opposed, and that the Obama administration did nothing to acknowledge their effort.

"It's a travesty that the previous administration refused to take Sarah's killer into custody because he was not considered a priority," Grassley said.

President Trump implemented parts of Sarah's law in 2017, including directing the DHS to prioritize removal of violent criminals. 

But Sen. Ernst intends to fulfill her promise to Sarah's parents, Michelle and Scott Root, and get the larger legislation passed.