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Democrat senator thwarts GOP effort to pass bill detaining illegal immigrants charged with violent crime

Senator Joni Ernst attempted to force a floor vote on a bill that would require ICE to take custody of illegal immigrants who are arrested for the death or injury of another person.

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, attempted to force a floor vote Wednesday on a law that would require illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes be detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in the hope of preventing avoidable attacks and resulting deaths. 

The Iowa Republican's unanimous consent request was thwarted by Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., who objected to the request. 

Ernst requested unanimous consent from her colleagues in order to advance Sarah's Law to the floor for a vote. During her speech she pleaded with colleagues to pass her bill, recalling the death of Sarah Root and also referencing the recent death of Laken Riley, both allegedly at the hands of illegal immigrants. 

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The bill would require ICE to take into custody illegal immigrants who are arrested and charged with causing the death or serious injury of another. This was reiterated by Ernst during her speech. "It would merely require ICE to detain, just to detain, otherwise deportable illegal immigrants charged with killing or seriously injuring another person," she said. 

Durbin claimed the bill would detain victims of trafficking or domestic abuse who were charged with crimes. According to him, the bill would "deprive immigrants of the due process that everyone is afforded."

The measure's namesake, Sarah Root, was a 21-year-old Iowa woman who was killed by a drunk driver who was also in the country illegally. Ernst noted that the suspect, Edwin Mejia, was able to post bond and ultimately escape facing the court. 

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"Citing the Obama administration’s November 2014 memo on immigration enforcement priorities, ICE declined to take custody of Mejia, despite his repeated driving offenses and history of skipping court dates," Ernst explained. 

Riley, the 22-year-old University of Georgia nursing student also referenced by the senator, was killed last month. Another illegal immigrant, Jose Ibarra, was arrested and has been charged with several crimes, including malice murder and felony murder, among others. 

News of Riley's killing made headlines across the country last month and has prompted congressional Republicans to demand answers. "The reality is Laken's heartbreaking story did not have to happen," Ernst said.

According to the senator, both Root and Riley's deaths are "doomed to be repeated," under the current policies. 

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The senator pointed to the immigration practice known as "catch and release," during which illegal immigrants seeking entry on the basis of asylum are released during the processing period. "Instead of being detained while he was processed, he was released into our country — never to be heard from again," she said. 

While Ibarra may have been prevented from allegedly killing Riley had he been detained upon entry to the country, Sarah's Law would not have stopped the attack, as Ibarra's criminal record doesn't include crimes in which others were killed or injured.  

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