Immigration Debate Turns Angry; Sanctuary Cities Ban Approved

Apr 3, 2018

After hours of debate, and on a mostly party-line vote, Republicans in the Iowa House Tuesday approved legislation they say will ensure that local governments in Iowa cooperate with federal immigration authorities.  

GOP lawmakers told stories of serious crimes committed in other states where they say immigrants in the country illegally are “caught and released.”      

Rep. Wes Breckenridge (D-Newton) and Rep. Steven Holt (R-Denison) arguing a point during debate on SF 481
Credit Joyce Russell/IPR

Under the bill, no city or county in Iowa may adopt a policy that discourages enforcement of federal  immigration laws or keeps police from inquiring about the immigration status of someone in detention.   

The bill’s main champion said it’s all about traditions already in place to keep Iowans safe.

Senate File 481 enforces the rule of law, ensuring that the cooperation between local, state and federal  authorities continues to be the norm,” said Rep. Steven Holt (R-Denison).

Holt said communities around the country that have declared themselves sanctuaries for immigrants are thumbing their noses at the rule of law.    

Democrats said the bill perpetuates a myth linking immigrants to serious crimes. They say it will harm relations between immigrants and police. And they charge it’s aimed at winning votes of fearful Iowans.   

Rep. Bruce Hunter (D-Des Moines) was called out for what appeared to be crossing the line of decorum in debate. 

It's so some places in Iowa ...don't become San Francisco. -Rep. Steven Holt

“Your view of these cities perpetuating criminal immigrants is narrow-minded and prejudicial,” Hunter said.

“That’s completely uncalled for in this debate,” said Rep. Zach Nunn (R-Bondurant). 

In particular, the bill says Iowa law enforcement should continue to detain an undocumented immigrant who is being held for a crime if the feds submit a detention request.   

But some Iowa counties require a warrant or a judge’s order as well. And Iowa City has offended the bill’s backers with its policy forbidding the use of local dollars to enforce immigration laws.  

“What law enforcement officer in the Iowa City area or Johnson County has obstructed  one of their agencies or immigration officials from doing their job?” asked Rep. Art Staed (D-Cedar  Rapids).

“I have no way of knowing that at this time,” answered Rep. Holt.  

Salvadoran immigrant Henry Lievano
Credit Joyce Russell/IPR

“I can tell you every agency out there, if they are contacted for help from ICE, they will help,” said Rep. Wes Breckenridge (D-Newton), a retired police officer.

Rep. Holt honored the memory of a young Council Bluffs woman, Sarah Root, who was struck and killed by a drunk driver, an undocumented immigrant who could have been deported.   

Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-Orange City) said that is not an isolated case.   

“We had a case back in the 90’s where a young man was stabbed to death by an illegal immigrant in Hawarden, Iowa,” Wheeler said.   “There have been some other cases swept under the rug.”    

An organization known as the Iowa Minuteman Defense Corps is the only group registered for the bill, while more than two dozen oppose it.

“There are 33 groups opposed to this bill,” said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell (D-Ames). “I don't know if I've ever worked on a bill that has had so much opposition to it.”  

What is it that we're afraid of, people? -Rep. Timi Brown-Powers

“I don’t know if I should yell today or cry today or curl up and hide today,” said Rep. Timi Brown-Powers (D-Waterloo), her voice breaking. “What is it that we’re afraid of, people?”

Rep. Holt says the biggest group of all supports the bill.

“That’s the people of Iowa and the people of the United States,” Holt said.  “It's an ounce of prevention so some places in Iowa don't decide they want to become San Francisco.”

The bill was approved on a vote of 55 to 45 as immigrants and their advocates watched from the balcony.   Henry Lievano is originally from El Salvador

“This is not Arizona, this is Iowa,” said Henry Lievano, who came to Iowa as a teenager and is protected from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. “We don’t need a law like that.”

The bill goes back to the Senate where it originated last year.