Exclusive – Sen. Joni Ernst: Sarah’s Law Is About Justice

Joni Ernst
Courtesy Joni Ernst

Sarah Root had just graduated college when she was struck and killed by a man who entered the country illegally and was driving drunk—three times over the legal limit.

When I first heard Sarah’s story, I was heartbroken. My own daughter was close in age to Sarah, and I couldn’t imagine the grief and pain the Root family was going through.

I remember when I met with Michelle and Scott—Sarah’s parents. They faced a terrible reality—that they would never see justice for their daughter because of a nonsensical immigration policy.

You see, despite repeated requests by local law enforcement, U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) under the Obama administration failed to detain Sarah’s killer because its policy at the time said ICE could use discretion when determining whether to detain a criminal alien charged with a violent offense. So, Sarah’s killer posted bond, was released, and disappeared out of the country. There was no justice for the Root family.

Right then and there, I knew we needed to take action. That’s why I wrote Sarah’s Law.

It’s really quite simple: The bill requires that ICE take custody of a person who is in the country illegally if that person is charged with a crime that kills or seriously injures another person. It also mandates a better victim notification system that lets victims and their families know what happened to their loved ones.

Sarah’s Law is about as commonsense a reform as there is. It recognizes the simple fact that all criminals should be held accountable for their actions and not allowed to slip back into the shadows. If Sarah’s Law is passed, men and women who are in this country illegally and murder another person would be prioritized for deportation if released. Who could oppose something like this? That’s why I went to the Senate floor this summer and attempted to pass this commonsense bill. To my shock, the Democrats blocked the bill.

While President Trump has implemented parts of Sarah’s Law through an executive order, including directing the secretary of Homeland Security to prioritize the removal of violent criminals, this could easily be overturned by a future administration, and that’s why we must pass my bill.

Folks, Sarah had her whole future ahead of her, but her opportunity to make her mark on the world was tragically cut short. And the very harsh reality is that what happened to Sarah is not an isolated incident. We have seen this story play out time and time again in the more than four years since Sarah’s killing. Innocent lives taken by criminals that entered the United States illegally through a porous border—but nothing ever changes.

No family should ever have to endure such a tragedy, especially one that could have been prevented.

While I recognize that the immigration debate has become a political football, justice for victims and their families—like the Roots—is not a game. Sarah’s Law is about changing the system for the better and ensuring that families have the promise of justice. I intend to fulfill that promise to Sarah’s loving parents—Michelle and Scott—that I will do everything I can to ensure that not one more parent has to go through what the Roots have faced: the loss of both their daughter and the promise of justice.


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