Sad Christ­mas for fam­ily Trump helped

Daugh­ter killed by il­le­gal alien in a tragedy with­out jus­tice

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY VA­LERIE RICHARD­SON

COUN­CIL BLUFFS, IOWA | There was a time when Scott Root and Michelle Wil­son-Root looked for­ward to Christ­mas, but not this year.

Their 21-year-old daugh­ter, Sarah Root, was killed Jan. 31 by Eswin Me­jia, an il­le­gal im­mi­grant from Hon­duras ac­cused of plow­ing into the back of her ve­hi­cle as he street-raced while drunk in Omaha, Ne­braska. He skipped bail. Nearly a year later, he re­mains a fugi­tive.

For the Roots, this is the first Christ­mas with­out her, their first since the tragedy put them on a path with Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump, who brought na­tional at­ten­tion to the case as part of his call dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign for a crack­down on il­le­gal immigration.

The Roots and their 25-yearold son, Scott Jr., met with and cam­paigned for Mr. Trump in Iowa. His Nov. 8 vic­tory was their vic­tory, too. That doesn’t make Christ­mas any eas­ier.

“It’s go­ing to suck,” said Mr. Root, his blank face a con­trast to the cheer­ful green and red dec­o­ra­tions at the lo­cal Star­bucks. “Just like Thanks­giv­ing sucked. Empty.”

It’s not hard to see why Sarah Root’s death res­onated with Mr. Trump. The day be­fore she was killed, Sarah grad­u­ated with a bach­e­lor’s de­gree from Belle­vue Univer­sity, where she car­ried a 4.0 GPA while work­ing full time at Wal­greens.

The 19-year-old driver, also known as Ed­win Me­jia, had a

blood al­co­hol con­tent of 0.241, three times the le­gal limit, when his truck rear-ended her Oldsmo­bile Bravada SUV. De­spite Me­jia’s his­tory of miss­ing court dates, U.S. Immigration and Cus­toms En­force­ment re­fused to put a hold on him.

Charged with ve­hic­u­lar homi­cide, Me­jia posted the re­quired $5,000 of the $50,000 bond set by a Ne­braska judge and fled. He has been added to ICE’s most-wanted list, al­though there is no word on his where­abouts.

The case soon came to sym­bol­ize a per­fect storm of ju­di­cial and bu­reau­cratic in­dif­fer­ence. Even ICE Deputy Di­rec­tor Daniel Rags­dale ac­knowl­edged in a let­ter to Iowa and Ne­braska Se­nate Repub­li­cans that “Ed­win Me­jia should be in cus­tody.”

“The killer of our child is gone,” said Mr. Root. “The judge has no ac­count­abil­ity. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment, Immigration and Cus­toms En­force­ment, said he wasn’t an en­force­ment pri­or­ity. Now he’s on the top 10 of the ICE list, so he is a pri­or­ity, but there’s no fed­eral money to catch him. Zero.”

From a po­lit­i­cal stand­point, the Roots were in the right place at the right time — Iowa, in the mid­dle of a Repub­li­can presidential pri­mary.

They con­nected with Mr. Trump in Fe­bru­ary and threw their sup­port be­hind him as he bashed the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for al­low­ing Me­jia to slip through the cracks, first af­ter he en­tered coun­try as an un­ac­com­pa­nied mi­nor in 2013 and then for re­fus­ing to de­tain him.

“I’ve met Sarah’s beau­ti­ful fam­ily. But to this ad­min­is­tra­tion, their amaz­ing daugh­ter was just one more Amer­i­can life that wasn’t worth pro­tect­ing,” Mr. Trump said in his July 21 ac­cep­tance speech at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion. “One more child to sac­ri­fice on the al­tar of open borders.”

The facts of the Root case were never in dis­pute even as Democrats and oth­ers chal­lenged some of Mr. Trump’s state­ments against il­le­gal immigration.

For ex­am­ple, Poli­tiFact rated as “half true” his Oct. 27 dec­la­ra­tion: “Thou­sands of Amer­i­cans have been killed by il­le­gal aliens.”

“In re­al­ity, there is no solid data for homi­cides com­mit­ted by peo­ple here il­le­gally,” Poli­tiFact said in a Nov. 3 anal­y­sis. “His im­plicit sug­ges­tion is that peo­ple should fear il­le­gal im­mi­grants more than cit­i­zens, and we don’t see ev­i­dence for that.”

From Democrats to Repub­li­cans

De­cid­ing to back Mr. Trump wasn’t au­to­matic for the Roots. They are prounion Democrats who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

Be­fore her daugh­ter was killed, Michelle Wil­son-Root said she planned to sit out the elec­tion.

“I wasn’t vot­ing. I told my kids a week be­fore Sarah passed, ‘I don’t care for any of them, and I’m not go­ing to vote this year,’” she said. “I said, ‘Even though I like what Mr. Trump is say­ing, he needs to soften it up a lit­tle bit.’ And I’ve never been a Hil­lary sup­porter.”

She changed her mind af­ter meet­ing Mr. Trump in May. “He’s an amaz­ing man. I wish ev­ery­body could see it,” she said.

As she told him about Sarah, he teared up.

“I judged him from what I had seen on TV, but with­out get­ting to know him. And get­ting to know him, I found out he’s no dif­fer­ent than we are,” said Ms. Wil­son-Root. “He has a heart of gold. He does so many things to help peo­ple be­hind the scenes, and he never wants the recog­ni­tion for it.”

The Roots’ son, Scott, talked to them about switch­ing par­ties af­ter tak­ing a West­ern civ­i­liza­tion course at Belle­vue, called the Kirk­patrick Sig­na­ture Se­ries, re­quired for grad­u­a­tion.

“He told me, ‘Mom, all your be­liefs are Repub­li­can be­liefs, not Demo­cratic be­liefs,’” she said.

Do­ing their part to elect Mr. Trump was only the be­gin­ning for the Roots. They have made it their mis­sion to keep Sarah’s case be­fore law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties and to fight for the rights of those who have lost loved ones to peo­ple liv­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally.

They are frus­trated by the trend to­ward de­scrib­ing un­doc­u­mented aliens as “im­mi­grants” with­out the “il­le­gal” mod­i­fier.

“The Democrats like to twist those words, and so does the me­dia, and say ‘im­mi­grants.’ That’s not what we’re talk­ing about,” said Ms. Wil­son-Root. “We’re talk­ing about il­le­gal im­mi­grants.”

They keep in reg­u­lar con­tact with Se­nate and House mem­bers in Iowa and Ne­braska, who have cham­pi­oned their cause. The fam­ily has built a $10,000 re­ward for in­for­ma­tion on the case by hold­ing fundrais­ers such as the Sarah Root Bounty Run in Au­gust.

The Roots cam­paigned against Dou­glas County Judge Jef­frey Mar­cuzzo, who set the $50,000 bond and was up for a re­ten­tion vote in Novem­ber. He was re­tained, but with less than 58 per­cent of the vote, the low­est of the 55 judges on the Ne­braska bal­lot.

In April, Mr. Root tes­ti­fied be­fore the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee at a hear­ing ti­tled “Crim­i­nal Aliens Re­leased by the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity.”

The Roots later joined four Repub­li­can sen­a­tors — Chuck Grass­ley and Joni Ernst of Iowa, and Deb Fis­cher and Ben Sasse of Ne­braska — to in­tro­duce Sarah’s Law, a bill that would place a manda­tory hold on any un­doc­u­mented alien who com­mits mo­tor ve­hi­cle homi­cide or se­ri­ous in­jury.

The bill, which the sen­a­tors plan to rein­tro­duce next year, also would re­quire ICE to in­form vic­tims’ fam­i­lies about the cus­tody sta­tus of sus­pects.

Un­der Pres­i­dent Obama’s 2014 ex­ec­u­tive or­ders on immigration, which were aimed at shift­ing the fo­cus to de­port­ing dan­ger­ous crim­i­nals, the num­ber of de­tain­ers, ar­rests and re­movals have been down about 40 per­cent, the House com­mit­tee re­ported.

Since Sarah’s death, the Roots have been in con­tact with other mem­bers of the club no­body wants to join, such as Mary Ann Men­doza, whose son Bran­don was killed in a 2014 car col­li­sion with an in­tox­i­cated il­le­gal im­mi­grant.

“We’ve told ev­ery­body, ‘Our daugh­ter wasn’t the first one this has hap­pened to.’ Why hasn’t some­thing been done in all the years that peo­ple have been speak­ing out against it?” said Ms. Wil­son-Root. “It’s be­cause we didn’t have any­one ballsy enough to be our voice, to stand up and say, ‘No, we’re not do­ing this any­more.’ And for­tu­nately, now we do with Mr. Trump.”

As much as the Roots want Me­jia brought to jus­tice, they don’t nec­es­sar­ily see that as Mr. Trump’s re­spon­si­bil­ity.

“I don’t think the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s job is to get him caught. I think their job is to make sure it doesn’t hap­pen to an­other fam­ily,” said Sarah’s brother, Scott. “I don’t have a doubt in my mind that he’ll be caught and that time will come when it’s sup­posed to. For the new ad­min­is­tra­tion, just put the pieces in place. Make sure it doesn’t hap­pen to some­one else.”


‘AMAZ­ING MAN’ Don­ald Trump joined Sarah Root’s fam­ily this sum­mer to bring at­ten­tion to their tragedy as part of his call for bor­der se­cu­rity. Mother Michelle Wil­son-Root, brother Scott Root and fa­ther Scott Bern­hardt are mourn­ing Sarah, whose il­le­gal im­mi­grant killer is now a fugi­tive.


Scott Root, whose sis­ter Sarah was killed by an il­le­gal im­mi­grant, gave a hug to Don­ald Trump. Mother Michelle Wil­son-Root says the pres­i­dent-elect “has a heart of gold,” and she and Sarah’s fa­ther, Scott Bern­hardt, have since be­come Repub­li­cans

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