Prepared Floor Statement by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee

On the Murder of Iowan Mollie Tibbetts and Preventing Future Tragedy

August 22, 2018



Today, I’d like to speak about a recent tragedy that has deeply impacted my home state of Iowa. Yesterday, authorities announced they found the remains of 20 year-old University of Iowa sophomore, Mollie Tibbetts, in Brooklyn, Iowa.

After searching tirelessly for a month, state and local law enforcement announced the unthinkable. Mollie was murdered in cold-blood. I’d like to commend the efforts of all involved in searching for this remarkable young woman, including the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, the FBI, Homeland Security and the individual members of the community who volunteered tirelessly to find Mollie. Americans watched the news every night—all of us holding onto the hope that Mollie would soon be found and returned to her loving family.

I want to extend my sincerest condolences and sympathies to Rob Tibbetts—Mollie’s father, and Laura Calderwood—Mollie’s mother. They spent the last month and a half searching the state for their missing daughter. Rob and Laura traveled across the state; raised awareness on TV; and handed out buttons, T-shirts and missing person’s flyers at the Iowa State Fair. Both Rob and Laura showed remarkable bravery in the face of tragedy. Know our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family during this difficult time.

For those of us in Washington, we ought to try and learn something from Mollie’s character and the example she set. As Mollie’s boyfriend, Dalton Jack said, “she’s not just a missing person flyer.” Mollie was an avid reader who enjoyed the choir, theater, and writing. Mollie loved her friends and had a natural ability to work with children.

Her friends say she had a gift for making anyone feel like the most important person in a room. No doubt her nurturing character and her ability to be everybody’s counselor, as a friend put it, led her to the University of Iowa to study psychology. There, Mollie spent her summers taking classes and working at a day camp with the Grinnell Regional Medical Center, where she mentored children. It’s no surprise that when Mollie went missing, over 200 people showed up for a vigil in her honor.

While we mourn the loss of Mollie Tibbetts, it is the duty of this senator, and every other senator in this body, to act to prevent further tragedies like this from devastating a family, and an entire community. We now know that Mollie was murdered by a 24-year old undocumented immigrant, who has been in the U.S. illegally for 4 to 7 years. That’s right. Four to seven years this man was here undetected and unaccounted for. This raises questions about his immigration, employment, and criminal history; and we must receive answers.

Today, I sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security seeking any immigration history on this man and a briefing to better understand how he was able to get to and stay in Iowa. The Tibbetts family, the people of Iowa and the American public deserve these answers.

Based on the information I do have, it seems this murder was preventable. Stricter border security measures, including increased personnel, enhanced technology and modernized infrastructure could have prevented this man from crossing the border. Stronger interior enforcement and addressing weaknesses in E-verify could have prevented this individual from working and would have allowed immigration enforcement authorities to initiate removal proceedings years ago.

Earlier this week, President Trump invited officers and agents from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to the White House to thank them for all they do on a daily basis. Recent events are a stark reminder as to how much we need these hard working men and women. Amidst cries from the radical far-left to abolish law enforcement agencies such as ICE, I am proud to stand here in support of the brave men and women of ICE.

CBP and ICE are tasked with protecting the homeland—a duty they willingly accepted on behalf of all Americans. Every day, the men and women of CBP and ICE put themselves in harm’s way because Congress tasked them with this great responsibility.

So to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle who call for abolishing immigration enforcement, I urge caution. Scapegoating our uniformed officers, who are simply executing the law, to launch future presidential campaigns only moves us further away from one another, and further away from a lasting solution.

To put their efforts into perspective, let’s take a look at some data. During fiscal year 2017, ICE arrested more than 127,000 aliens with criminal convictions or charges. ICE made 5,225 administrative arrests of suspected gang members. Last year, the criminal aliens arrested by ICE were responsible for more than:

  • 76,000 dangerous drug offenses;
  • 48,000 assault offenses;
  • 11,000 weapon offenses;
  • 5,000 sexual offenses;
  • 2,000 kidnapping offenses; and
  • 1,800 homicide offenses.

And those stats are just for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations or “ERO.” Last year, ICE Homeland Security Investigations made over 4,800 gang-related arrests. ICE also targets illicit drug flows, human trafficking operations and transnational criminal and terrorist organizations. ICE is part of our broader national security apparatus and often works hand-in-hand with their partners at the Department of Justice, including DEA, FBI, and hundreds of federal prosecutors.

In 2017, ICE identified or rescued 904 sexually exploited children and 518 victims of human trafficking. ICE seized more than 980,000 pounds of narcotics last year, including 2,370 pounds of fentanyl and 6,967 pounds of heroin. To my colleagues who have spoken strongly about combatting the moral stain of human trafficking, or about ending the opioid epidemic gripping our country, I ask: how is ICE anything but an indispensable partner in this fight? How can we expect to combat the flow of lethal narcotics without the brave men and women of CBP and ICE?

Just last week, I sent a letter to Secretaries Nielsen and Pompeo about an Iraqi national who lied about his active membership in ISIS and Al Qaeda in Iraq, so that he could claim refugee status and settle safely in Sacramento, California. ICE played a vital role in his arrest. This weekend, ICE deported a Nazi prison guard who was living in Queens, New York. And yesterday, ICE was immediately on the scene in Brooklyn, Iowa when state and local authorities determined the suspect was a foreign national.

Congress has been dancing around the issue of securing our border and strengthening interior enforcement for far too long. We’ve told voters that we’ll fix the problem, but stories like Kate Steinle, Sarah Root, Kayla Cuevas and now Mollie Tibbetts continue to appear on the news. Enough is enough.

I urge the Senate to put partisanship aside and support Sarah’s Law. This is a bill I introduced with Senator Ernst, in honor of a fellow Iowan Sarah Root, who was killed by an undocumented immigrant driving drunk and three times over the legal limit. Sarah’s Law is a commonsense bill that requires the federal government to take custody of anyone who entered the country illegally, violated the terms of their immigration status or had their visa revoked and is thereafter charged with killing or seriously harming another person. It also requires ICE to make reasonable efforts to identify and provide relevant information to the crime victims or their families.

We can and we must do better.