© 2024 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bill To Collect Data On Crimes By Some Immigrants Advances Despite Racial Profiling Concerns

Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, listens to testimony at a subcommittee considering a constitutional amendment raising the threshold for passing an income tax increase.
John Pemble
Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, sponsored a bill that require data collection about offenses by some immigrants.

Law enforcement agencies would be required to collect information on offenses committed by immigrants who aren’t U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents under a bill advanced Tuesday in the Iowa Senate. 

This would apply to undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients and people with temporary visas for things like work and education opportunities.

Opponents of the bill say it would lead police to engage in racial profiling in order to seek information about immigration status when issuing citations and arresting people. A state agency would compile the data and submit it to lawmakers each year.

Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, said there is no racist intent in his proposal. He also said meth trafficking originating in Mexico is something the bill could address.

“It is substantially a product of illegal alien crime,” Carlin said. “The purpose of the bill is to define the scope and truth of whether or not there’s a problem to begin with. Another purpose of this bill is to commit resources to needed areas within the Department of Public Safety so that we’re properly allocating resources to problem areas.”

Carlin added that Iowans have a right to know if there is a “threat that comes from outside this country that raises significant safety issues.”

Nationalstudies have found no link between immigrants and increased crime. Studies show that communities in the U.S. that have growing immigrant populations have seen violent crime rates fall along with national crime rates.

Less information exists about possible connections between undocumented immigrants specifically and crime. But an analysis by The Marshall Project found violent crime has been decreasing overall, even in areas that have increasing numbers of undocumented immigrants.

At Tuesday’s subcommittee meeting, community members, immigrant advocates and some law enforcement groups spoke out against Carlin’s bill.

Luis Gomez, who works at a high school in Des Moines, said he has been working to build trust between students of color who come from immigrant families and the local police.

“This bill, in essence, would destroy all that trust that we have built and that we have with the Des Moines Police Department,” Gomez said. “It would create a sense of alienation.”

Other members of the public said they have been racially profiled by police and worry that the same thing will happen to their kids.

Karen Montgalo of Ames said she was once pulled over while driving with her son to the Des Moines area, and the officer’s first question was to find out if she is a U.S. citizen. She said the officer told her one of her brake lights wasn’t working, but she checked them, and they worked. Montgalo said the officer let her go with a verbal warning.

“He stopped me based on the color of my skin. I am a U.S. citizen. I come from a military family,” Montgalo said.

She said if lawmakers choose to pass the bill, they should add a requirement for every person in the state to carry proof of their citizenship, regardless of their skin color.

“There’s no reason for me as a U.S. citizen to have to carry proof that this is my country,” Montgalo said.

And law enforcement groups said it would be nearly impossible for them to implement the policy.

“There is no way we can collect this data without going through everything, every person. Because we would be profiling if we did not go through every single offense,” said Susan Cameron Daeman, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Sheriffs’ and Deputies’ Association.

She added it would take too much additional staff and money to seek immigration status data about every person cited or arrested by county law enforcement in the state.

“Racial profiling does happen sometimes, and we are trying to improve on that,” Daeman said.

No lobbyists or members of the public spoke in favor of the bill.

Sen. Zach Whiting, R-Spirit Lake, and Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, agreed to advance the bill. But Dawson said he wants an amendment that would require the data collection only from jails and prisons in the state, which would mean citations like driving violations wouldn’t be part of the data collection.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, voted against the bill.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter