A draft version of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention appeared online ahead of the address on Thursday. That draft was a tour de force of fearmongering, demagoguery, and anger.
One line in the speech stood out, though. In January, a young woman was killed in Nebraska after an undocumented immigrant who was street-racing with a blood alcohol level of three times over the legal limit crashed his car into hers. The speech describes the incident:
“One … border-crosser was released and made his way to Nebraska. There, he ended the life of an innocent young girl named Sarah Root. She was 21 years-old, and was killed the day after graduating from college with a 4.0 Grade Point Average. Her killer was then released a second time, and he is now a fugitive from the law.”
Then, Trump puts the blame squarely on President Barack Obama and suggests that this one case demonstrates the need to enact his proposed policy of deporting 12 million undocumented immigrants. The language he uses to do this is stark and ugly. It is the most odious line in the entire speech (italics are mine):
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. One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.
Yes, Trump goes full “child sacrifice” in the biggest moment of his life. Putting aside the grotesquery of Trump’s framing—trying to find a policy to accommodate this nation’s millions of undocumented immigrants equals the ritualistic killing of children—what is the story of Sarah Root?
Root had just graduated from Bellevue University with a 4.0 GPA and a degree in investigations when Eswin Mejia, 19, of Honduras crashed into her car. His blood alcohol level was .241. Root died in the hospital a short time later.
According to Fox News, Immigration and Customs Enforcement encountered Mejia in May 2013 in Nogales, Arizona, when he was 16, and designated him as an unaccompanied child before sending him to Omaha in 2014 to live with his brother.
After Root’s death, Mejia was let out of jail on bond in early February and then fled—he is now on ICE’s most-wanted list. The Omaha World-Herald documented the “systemic failure,” from the local to the federal level, that led to Mejia’s flight from justice.
On a scale of 1 to 7, Mejia was listed as just a 2-level flight risk despite being from another country and not a U.S. citizen.
Douglas County Judge Jeff Marcuzzo set Mejia’s bail at just 10 percent of $50,000, so he only needed to post $5,000 to secure his release.
No prosecutor objected to this bail amount.
Root’s father asked a police investigator about the bail amount on repeated occasions, and the police investigator repeatedly called ICE to request that Mejia be detained “due to bond amount and elevated flight risk.”
ICE denied those requests and has given a number of ex post facto explanations. In an initial statement, it said this: “[Mejia] did not meet ICE’s enforcement priorities … because he had no prior significant misdemeanor or felony conviction record.”
Mejia, however, had failed to appear in court for driving the wrong way on a one-way street and an arrest for driving without a valid driver’s license. He had an outstanding warrant and had twice failed to appear in court.
Nonetheless, he went free and is now a fugitive. ICE deputy director Dan Ragsdale has essentially since said that this was a mistake. “Simply put, Eswin Mejia should be in custody,” Ragsdale told Omaha ABC affiliate KETV. “I have made it clear to the ICE field office that similarly situated aliens should be subject to enforcement action.”
“This answer isn’t good enough, so we’re going to expect something different,” Root’s father Scott said.
Indeed, the family is upset with the response, and the mother Michelle met with Trump after he gave a speech in Iowa in May, in which he said about Sarah’s death, “you had a horrible killing here in Omaha, we don’t have to go into it … illegal immigration.” Michelle Root now supports Trump, having twice voted for Obama, and is pushing for congressional action called Sarah’s Law that would require ICE to hold in custody any undocumented immigrant who is charged with a crime that resulted in a death or serious bodily injury.
Merits of Sarah’s Law and the tragedy of her story aside, the way Trump’s speech uses her death is one of the greatest shames of this convention.