Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse blasted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) director Sarah Saldana on Monday over her explanation for why the agency severely mishandled a case involving an illegal alien who is wanted for killing a woman in a drunken street race in January.
“Bureaucratic nonsense” is what Sasse called Saldana’s response to a series of questions about ICE failure to detain 19-year-old Edwin Mejia.
“ICE’s response does not attempt to answer why it did not detain an illegal alien who killed an innocent woman and is now on the run as one of ICE’s most wanted,” the Republican wrote Monday in a letter to Saldana’s boss, Department of Homeland Security Sec. Jeh Johnson.
Mejia, a Honduran national, was charged with vehicular homicide for the Jan. 31 death of 21-year-old Sarah Root. Mejia was drag racing drunk when he slammed into Root’s SUV. She died hours later.
Mejia went on the run after being released from jail on Feb. 5 after paying 10 percent of his $50,000 bond. But he would have been taken into ICE custody had agency field officers not declined a request from the Omaha police department to detain him.
ICE, which initially claimed that Mejia was not detained because he was not an “enforcement priority,” acknowledged its error last week when it placed Mejia on its “Most Wanted” list.
Sasse and other senators pressed Saldana on the failure during a Homeland Security Committee hearing last month. The immigration official appeared unsure of the facts of the case during that session. She falsely asserted during the hearing that Root was not dead when Mejia was released and that ICE could not respond to the Omaha police department’s request because it had only a “matter of hours.”
Root died several days before Mejia bailed out of jail. And Omaha police investigators contacted ICE nearly 12 hours before Mejia was released.
In a letter sent to Saldana on Feb. 29, Sasse asked who at ICE was responsible for the decision to not detain Mejia.
Saldana did not directly answer the question but did provide the new detail that Mejia is an unaccompanied alien minor. He entered the U.S. in May 2013 and was detained by Border Patrol agents near Nogales, Ariz. But he was allowed to remain in the U.S. because he was only 16. He was transferred to the care of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services before being placed in the custody of his brother, who lived in Tennessee at the time.
Saldana stated in the letter to Sasse that ICE headquarters has “re-emphasized” to field officers that the removal of “similarly situated aliens” like Mejia “would serve an important federal interest,” she did not detail who decided not to detain Mejia on Feb. 5.
But Sasse was not impressed with Saldana’s response.
“Director Saldana’s handling of this matter shows no regard for the Root family and continues to be an embarrassment to the hard-working men and women at the Department of Homeland Security,” he wrote to Johnson.