Chuck Grassley

United States Senator from Iowa

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Iowa, Nebraska Senators: Who was Monitoring Edwin Mejia?

Apr 27, 2016

Fugitive Charged in Death of Sarah Root was placed under Brother’s Supervision

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate delegations from Iowa and Nebraska are seeking details on the Obama Administration’s decision to place an unaccompanied minor immigrant in the care of his older brother, who was illegally residing in the United States.  Edwin Mejia entered the country as a minor, was transferred out of federal custody, and is now a fugitive charged in an Omaha drunk driving incident that killed 21-year-old Iowan Sarah Root. 

“We are deeply concerned that an unaccompanied alien minor, Edwin (a.k.a. “Eswin”) Mejia, was released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to a sponsor who was reportedly in the United States illegally.  We would appreciate a better understanding of what happened in light of the fact that Mejia, now almost 20 years old, has since been charged with a crime resulting in the death of a U.S. citizen, absconded from authorities, and remains a fugitive at-large,” Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and Nebraska Senators Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell.

The Department of Health and Human Services is responsible for placing unaccompanied minor immigrants with adult sponsors who live in the United States.  The Department is also responsible for conducting background checks on potential sponsors prior to placing minors under their supervision.  However, a recent Government Accountability Office report reveals that the Department fails to routinely and thoroughly conduct background checks of potential sponsors to determine whether they are suited to supervise a minor.

The Senators are seeking details on the steps the Department took to ensure that Mejia’s brother, Santos Jesus Romero-Mejia, was qualified to be responsible for the care of a minor, as well as whether the Department has maintained any communication with the brothers after Mejia was placed with Romero-Mejia.  The Senators have also raised concern that the Department of Homeland Security didn’t consider Mejia to be an enforcement priority.  They have not received full responses to those inquiries.

Grassley, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees immigration policy, has raised concerns about inadequate background checks, including skipped child abuse and neglect checks, that leave unaccompanied minor immigrants in the care of criminals, according to whistleblower reports.

Text of the Senators’ letter to Secretary Burwell follows:

April 26, 2016

The Honorable Sylvia Mathews Burwell
Secretary
Department of Health and Human Services
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Burwell:

We are deeply concerned that an unaccompanied alien minor, Edwin (a.k.a. “Eswin”) Mejia, was released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to a sponsor who was reportedly in the United States illegally.  We would appreciate a better understanding of what happened in light of the fact that Mejia, now almost 20 years old, has since been charged with a crime resulting in the death of a U.S. citizen, absconded from authorities, and remains a fugitive at-large. 

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Mejia entered the country illegally on May 14, 2013, near Nogales, Arizona.  At that time, Customs and Border Protection arrested Mejia and served him a Notice to Appear.  On May 17, 2013, Mejia was placed by HHS, via the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), at the David and Margaret Youth and Family Services facility in Los Angeles, California.  On June 28, 2013, Mejia was released into the custody of his brother, Santos Jesus Romero-Mejia, who resided in Madison, Tennessee.  According to ICE, the ORR reunification packet includes information stating that “Edwin Mejia claims that his brother is ‘illegal.’”  

Edwin Mejia was arrested on January 31, 2016, in Omaha, Nebraska, and charged with drag racing, driving under the influence, and killing 21-year old Sarah Root in a car accident. Mejia’s blood alcohol limit at the time of the accident was more than three times the legal limit.  Sarah Root had graduated that evening from Bellevue University with perfect grades and was on her way home.  

Mejia, who had twice failed to appear in court on state charges, was released on bond and absconded.  His whereabouts are still unknown.  

Because Mejia was an unaccompanied minor at the time he crossed the border, HHS was in charge of his care and placement while in the United States.  Given the findings by the Government Accountability Office that your Department does not adequately monitor its grantees and has failed to routinely conduct background checks, including fingerprinting all sponsors or completing child abuse and neglect checks on relative sponsors , we would like to know what information your Department had on Mejia’s sponsor before releasing Mejia into his custody.  Moreover, we would like to know whether HHS had any further contact with Mejia once he was placed with his sponsor. Therefore, we ask that your Department respond to the following questions related to this case no later than May 11:  

1.    Why was Edwin Mejia placed at the David and Margaret Youth and Family Services facility in Los Angeles?
2.    How many individuals applied to be a sponsor for Edwin Mejia?  Please provide details and any document related to each applicant, including information such as name, relationship, address, and a copy of the application submitted.  
3.    What specific background or biometric checks were done on the sponsor applicants before Edwin Mejia was transferred to the custody of his brother, Santos Jesus Romero-Mejia?
4.    Who performed the background check for Mejia’s sponsor – HHS or a contractor? If a contractor, please provide the name.
5.    Was Mejia released under any kind of an agreement, probation, or order of supervision?
6.    How was Edwin Mejia physically transferred from California to the custody of his brother who supposedly resided in Tennessee?  
7.    What is the Department’s current policy on fingerprinting the sponsors of unaccompanied minors?  If parents and other immediate relatives are not required to undergo biometric checks, please explain why.  
8.    After Mejia’s placement, did HHS have any further contact with him or his sponsor? 

In addition to answering these questions, please provide any document related to Edwin Mejia, including all notes, documents, applications and correspondence included therein.  
    
We appreciate your cooperation and await your response.

Sincerely,
                    
Senator Chuck Grassley            Senator Joni Ernst
Senator Deb Fischer                  Senator Ben Sasse

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