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Sarah Root’s mother urges tougher immigration policies at Washington rally

September 8, 2018

WASHINGTON — Iowan Michelle Root and others gathered outside the U.S. Capitol on Friday to demand that policymakers get tough on illegal immigration.

Root co-founded an organization representing those who have lost loved ones to criminals in the country illegally. She has described it as part support group, part advocacy operation.

Her own daughter Sarah Root had just graduated from Bellevue University in January 2016 when she was killed in an Omaha car crash. Authorities say Eswin Mejia, who was in the country illegally, was intoxicated when he caused the crash.

Mejia was arrested but disappeared after being released on bail a few days later.

“Sarah’s life matters,” Michelle Root said when she took the microphone Friday.

Those around her held signs in support of President Donald Trump and his immigration policies, such as building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Most immigrants in America are in the country legally, and advocacy groups point to studies that have demonstrated no link between immigrants — in the country legally or not — and higher crime rates.

“The consensus is there is a century’s worth of studies showing that undocumented immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans,” said Nebraska Appleseed spokesman Jeff Sheldon.

In spite of that, Trump has pointed to Sarah Root’s death and similar cases repeatedly as he makes the case for a tougher approach to immigration.

Dozens participated in Friday’s three-hour event, which landed on a brutally sunny and muggy Washington day. A bank of cameras captured the speeches, which also were streamed online.

Speakers said lawmakers need to crack down on sanctuary jurisdictions, saying they offer safe harbor to criminals.

Defenders of those policies argue that they foster trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement — and that cooperation helps officials track down and apprehend violent offenders.

White House aide Kellyanne Conway and former White House aide Sebastian Gorka both spoke at Friday’s event, reiterating that Trump stands with the families there.

Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, told the group that the issue is personal for him, having met the grieving families.

“My jackets have been soaked with the tears of their parents,” King said.

A longtime hard-liner on illegal immigration, King has called for Trump to insist on border wall funding even if that contributes to a government shutdown.

Among the names of victims King mentioned during his speech was Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts.

Officials have said the man charged in her abduction and killing was in the country illegally.

But members of her family have objected to politicians and others bringing her death into the immigration fight to advance their own agendas.

“The person who is accused of taking Mollie’s life is no more a reflection of the Hispanic community as white supremacists are of all white people,” her father wrote in an opinion piece for the Des Moines Register.

After his speech, King told The World-Herald that he wants to be respectful to the Tibbetts family but that he must also think about millions of other Americans.

“If this Congress had joined with me when I came to this town, I believe Mollie would be alive today,” King said. “And having that conviction says to me that I can’t just step back and not speak at this time.”

And while she didn’t mention Tibbetts by name, Michelle Root said the case deserves public attention.

“Illegal immigration is a political issue, and it’s a safety issue,” she said.

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