Sen. Joni Ernst reintroduces immigration bill Sarah's Law on anniversary of Iowan woman's death

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- On the third anniversary of Sarah Root’s death, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) is reintroducing the immigration bill named in Root’s honor.

Sarah’s Law is legislation that would require U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to take custody of someone who is in the country illegally and charged with a crime that resulted in either death or serious injury of another person.

Root, an Iowan, was 21-years-old when she was struck and killed in a car accident in Nebraska allegedly caused by Edwin Mejia, an undocumented migrant who was arrested for driving under the influence and later charged with vehicular homicide, according to authorities.

Mejia was not detained by ICE at the time and posted bail and disappeared.

This is the third time Sen. Ernst has proposed this bill since 2016, and Sen. John Thune (R-SD), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) are some of the senators who have supported the bill in the past.

When asked why she has had issues getting the bill passed in previous years, Sen. Ernst said, “Because it deals with illegal immigration, people who are here illegally, we just don’t get traction from friends across the aisle.”

But the senator thinks her new role on the Judiciary Committee might give her a better platform to push the legislation through this time.

Sarah’s Law did pass the house in 2017, which Sen. Ernst said might not be as easy to do this session.

“There could be an issue in the House, but again, this is about seeking justice for families who have lost their loved ones to people who should not be in this country,” she said.

In 2018, Sarah’s Law became part of the national discussion on immigration again after Mollie Tibbett, a 20-year-old woman living in Iowa, was allegedly killed by an undocumented migrant.

Following Tibbett’s death, both Sen. Ernst and Sen. Grassley said they planned to reintroduce Sarah’s Law, though critics of the legislation said the senators were politicizing tragedy.

“It’s unfortunate that during a tragedy like this some people choose to polarize our communities and our state by politicizing the situation and emphasizing the immigration status of the person accused.” ACLU of Iowa wrote on their Facebook page.

“It’s important to remind ourselves that, sadly, people of all races and levels of citizenship commit crimes,” the post continued.

Sen. Ernst said she is still in contact with the Root family.