Sen. Joni Ernst

(Washington, D.C.) -- A bill by Iowa Senator Joni Ernst that would change the way illegal aliens are detained when charged with a violent criminal offense has stalled in the Senate.

Ernst's bill -- Sarah's Law -- is named for Sarah Root, a 21-year-old from Council Bluffs who was struck and killed in Omaha by an illegal immigrant -- Edwin Mejia -- who was driving drunk. Local authorities requested U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement place a hold on Mejia, but they declined. He posted bond and remains a fugitive at-large to this day. Ernst's bill would require ICE to detain illegal immigrants accused of violent crimes.

“Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Liberal…we know our immigration system is broken…that’s an easy statement to make, but nothing ever changes and we need to start getting things done," said Ernst. “In Iowa, we’ve learned this in a tragic way."

Ernst says the current system allows ICE to exercise discretion when it comes to detaining individuals. She says this system has denied Root's family justice.

“As a mother, I cannot fathom the grief that her family and friends continue to feel after such a devastating loss," said Ernst. “Sarah had her whole future ahead of her, but her opportunity to make her mark on the world was tragically cut short."

Ernst calls Sarah's Law common sense and simple.

"It requires that ICE take custody of a person who is in the country illegally if they are charged with a crime that seriously injures another person," said Ernst. "It also mandates a better victim notification system that lets victims and their families know what happened to their loved ones."

In 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that would direct the Secretary of Homeland Security to prioritize the removal of violent criminals. Ernst says she wants that practice to be law, not just an executive order.

“Despite provisions of Sarah’s Law being put in place by President Trump’s order, it is critical that the Senate codify these enforcement priorities, so that they cannot be removed by future administrations," said Ernst. "This may seem crazy to those watching at home but criminal aliens charged with homicide were allowed to escape detention in previous administrations."

Ernst asked for unanimous consent for the Senate to call up and pass her bill this week.  Passing a bill by unanimous consent allows the legislation to pass without objection.  Ernst's request was blocked by New Mexico Democrat Tom Udall. 

Ernst's bill is co-sponsored by fellow Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and Nebraska Senators Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer, as well as 22 other senators.

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