Homeland Security officials Wednesday named an illegal immigrant whom police accuse of killing a young woman in a drunken-driving accident to their list of 10 most wanted fugitives, hoping to capture a man who’s become a black eye for immigration agents.
Agents failed to respond in February to pick up Eswin Mejia, 19, after he was charged with vehicular homicide by Omaha, Nebraska, authorities. The police processed Mr. Mejia and he posted bond, so officers asked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to come get him to make sure he didn’t escape altogether.
But when no agents arrived, local authorities had to release the man, who has since absconded, missing court appearances and disappearing into the shadows with the estimated 11 million other illegal immigrants.
ICE Director Sarah Saldana appeared to stumble in testimony to Congress about the incident, saying that agents would have responded if the victim of the crash, 21-year-old Sarah Root, had already died, rather than still hanging on for life at the time ICE was notified.
Lawmakers said not only did that seem a ridiculous standard, but they said Ms. Saldana was wrong about the facts — Root had died by the time ICE was notified.
Ms. Saldana, in a statement, said she’s now determined to track the fugitive down.
“ICE is working with law enforcement authorities in Nebraska and Honduras to locate and arrest Mejia. ICE will work tirelessly to ensure justice is done in this matter,” she said.
In its most-wanted notice, ICE said Mr. Mejia entered the U.S. illegally in 2013. They did not say how they learned that information.
Initially, ICE reportedly said Mr. Mejia didn’t meet President Obama’s priority list for being detained. That list details the crimes that are serious enough that the administration says they should merit deportation, and under those instructions ICE doesn’t generally try to deport those who don’t meet the priorities.
On Wednesday, ICE said its officers and managers in the field looked at the totality of Mr. Mejia’s case and decided he didn’t need to be held because he didn’t meet their guidelines. But the agency said the agents could have used “flexibility” to hold him anyway.
“Further review of the case may have resulted in the conclusion that, because of the seriousness of the vehicle crash, Mr. Mejia’s case rose to the level of an important federal interest,” an ICE official said. “Senior ICE officials at headquarters have brought this matter to the attention of all field leadership to reaffirm that appropriate consideration must be given to all cases which may meet an important federal interest.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican who quizzed Ms. Saldana about the incident at a hearing two weeks ago, said ICE was right to elevate Mr. Mejia to its most-wanted list, but it should never have come to that.
“Mr. Mejia should not need to be on this list — he should be in jail. ICE originally said that Mr. Mejia was not an ‘enforcement priority’ but this morning he was placed on their Most Wanted list,” Mr. Sasse said in a statement.
He sent a list of follow-up questions to Ms. Saldana, who personally promised a response by the end of last week. As of Wednesday afternoon, no response had been sent.
ICE said it will reply directly to Mr. Sasse “as soon as is practicable.”