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

Iowa governor signs immigration enforcement bill into law

Border patrol agents wait on the U.S. side of the border on the Bridge of the Americas between El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico to check identification of those crossing into the U.S. In recent months, border patrol agents have posted on the U.S. side of the border and required that migrants wait to cross due to space issues. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported it arrested a record numbers of migrant family units in December.
Natalie Krebs
IPR File
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law set to take effect July 1 that allows state officials to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants.

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law Wednesday that allows state and local police to arrest undocumented immigrants who illegally re-entered the country and authorizes state courts to deport them.

The law creates a state-level crime of “illegal reentry.” Undocumented immigrants could face up to two years in prison if they enter, attempt to enter, or are found in Iowa and have been denied admission to or been deported from the U.S.

The law will take effect on July 1 if it is not blocked by a court.

A similar law in Texas has been held up in court as federal judges consider its constitutionality. Courts have previously found that only the federal government can enforce immigration laws.

Reynolds signed the bill into law Wednesday during a private event in her office along with several Republican lawmakers.

“The Biden Administration has failed to enforce our nation’s immigration laws, putting the protection and safety of Iowans at risk,” she said in a statement. “Those who come into our country illegally have broken the law, yet Biden refuses to deport them. This bill gives Iowa law enforcement the power to do what he is unwilling to do: enforce immigration laws already on the books.”

Erica Johnson, executive director of the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, said the legislation has already caused a lot of fear and confusion in immigrant communities. She said the group is considering challenging the law in court.

“This law ignores the fact of federal preemption, and it’s purely a political stunt in an election year that’s meant to drive fear and just perpetuate hateful campaign rhetoric,” Johnson said.

She said the law does not empower local police to arrest all undocumented immigrants—just those who were previously denied entry or deported. She said that can include people with legal status who are pursuing asylum or protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Johnson said the lack of a time limit in the bill means people who re-entered Iowa decades ago could be arrested and charged with the new crime. She said overall, Iowa should be welcoming immigrants and refugees, and this law fails all Iowans.

When the Iowa Legislature passed the bill last month, Republican Rep. Steven Holt of Denison acknowledged there were a lot of unanswered questions, such as how the state of Iowa would deport people to Mexico. But he said the federal government abdicated its duty to control the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I believe that in order to protect our communities and our state, we must push the envelope,” Holt said. “And that is what this legislation does.”

At the time, ACLU of Iowa Executive Director Mark Stringer called it “one of the most extreme, discriminatory, and unconstitutional anti-immigrant bills in the country.”

“The Iowa law enforcement and state judges tasked with authority to carry out this outrageous legislation are not trained in immigration law and have no proper authority to enforce it,” he said. “This legislation encourages and facilitates racial profiling and stereotyping. It undermines—not promotes—public safety and the rule of law.”

Stringer said it would authorize Iowa judges to order someone to be deported or jailed before they can seek humanitarian protection they are entitled to. He said it will wreak havoc in Iowa families and communities, and threaten citizens and noncitizens in Iowa.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter