Migrants in Iowa are wondering whether to leave behind a bill that could see some arrested and deported

Spectators listen to community organizer Maria Acosta speak during an Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice information meeting, Wednesday, March 27, 2024, in Des Moines, Iowa.  A bill in Iowa that would allow the state to arrest and deport certain immigrants is stoking fears among immigrant communities about how it would be interpreted and enforced.  (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

(Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press)

Migrants in Iowa are wondering whether to leave behind a bill that could see some arrested and deported

Immigration and the border

HANNAH FINGERHUT

April 1, 2024

A bill in Iowa that would allow the state to arrest and deport certain immigrants is stoking fear among immigrant communities, leading some to wonder: Should I leave Iowa?

The legislation, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds would make it a state crime for someone to be in Iowa if they are previously denied entry into the United States or removed from the United States. It mirrors part of a Texas law currently blocked in court.

Across Iowa, groups from Latino and immigrant communities are organizing informational meetings and materials to try to answer people’s questions. They are also asking local and state law enforcement agencies for official statements and face-to-face meetings.

As 80 people gathered in a community room at the Des Moines Public Library last week, community organizer Fabiola Schirrmeister pulled written questions from a can. In Spanish, someone asked: Is it safe to call the police? Another asked: Can Iowa police ask me about my immigration status? And: What happens if I am racially profiled?

Erica Johnson, executive director of Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, the organization that organized the rally, sighed when someone asked: Should I leave Iowa?

Texas’ migrant arrest law has been temporarily suspended under the latest court ruling

Entiendo el sentido, she said. I understand the sentiment.

Schirrmeister, host of a local Spanish-language radio program, explained how long organizers have worked to build a bridge with law enforcement.

“It is sad how this will erode trust between local police, pro-immigrant organizations and immigrant communities,” she said.

Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert told The Associated Press in an email that immigration status plays no role in the department’s work to keep the community safe, and he said it would be unfair and contradictory to include it take while law enforcement works. to remove such prejudices.

“I am not interested, nor are we equipped, funded or staffed to take on additional responsibilities that historically have never been a function of local law enforcement,” he added.

In Iowa and across the country, Republican leaders have rallied around the refrain that every state is a border state, while accusing President Biden of neglecting his responsibilities in enforcing federal immigration law. That has led Republican governors to send troops to support Texas Governor Greg. Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, and the Legislature to propose a variety of strategies at the state level.

Judge is skeptical of Texas law allowing police to arrest migrants for illegal entry

The Iowa Legislature advanced the measure to address what one lawmaker called a clear and present danger posed to Iowans by some migrants crossing the southern border. Republican Rep. Steve Holt acknowledged constitutionality issues surrounding the bill, but ultimately argued that Iowa has the right, duty and moral obligation to act to protect our citizens and our sovereignty.

If we end up in a lawsuit with the federal government, let it happen, Holt said at a subcommittee meeting in February. I think it’s time for every state to stand up and say we’ve had enough. We will defend our people.”

The Texas law is being held up in court after a challenge from the U.S. Department of Justice, which says it conflicts with the federal government’s immigration authority. The department did not immediately comment on the Iowa bill.

Iowa’s legislation, like Texas’ law, could bring criminal charges against people who have outstanding deportation orders or who have previously been removed from the U.S. or denied entry into the U.S. Once in custody, migrants can either comply with a judge’s order to leave the US or face prosecution.

The judge’s order must identify the transportation method for leaving the U.S. and a law enforcement officer or an Iowa agency to monitor migrants’ departure. Those who do not leave could be rearrested under more serious charges.

How Texas’ plans to arrest migrants for illegal entry would work if put into effect

The Iowa bill faces the same implementation and enforcement challenges as the Texas law, as deportation is a complicated, expensive and often dangerous federal process, said immigration law expert Huyen Pham of the Texas A&M School of Law.

How will law enforcement authorities in Iowa determine whether someone has entered Iowa in violation of an immigration warrant? Pham asked. She said questions remain about which country a detainee would be returned to, how he would get there and how agencies would communicate with those countries.

Deportations are a binational process, she said, meaning the federal government negotiates with the governments of other countries. Incoherent state-by-state immigration policies could threaten those international relations, Pham said.

Mexico has already said it will reject any state or local government that enforces immigration laws.

The Iowa State Patrol, as well as representatives from multiple police departments and county sheriff’s offices across the state, declined to comment on the bill before it was signed into law.

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Shawn Ireland, president of the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association and sheriff in Linn County, said in an email that law enforcement officials would consult with county attorneys for guidance if the bill becomes law.

But Ireland added that community relations with police are a priority, and that the focus of law enforcement is not on looking for people who have come to this country illegally and are not committing crimes.”

Manny Galvez, leader of the community group Escucha Mi Voz (Hear My Voice), based in the rural town of West Liberty, said the bill has encouraged immigrant communities, including some in harder-to-reach areas of Iowa, to send the migrants. message that immigration is a human issue and that the state’s meatpacking plants, corn fields and construction projects depend on immigrant labor.

Lawmakers advancing a bill like this are disconnected from that reality, Galvez said.

Criminalizing the immigrant community is not the solution, he said. We tell people: don’t be afraid. No tengan miedo. We will continue to fight this.”

Hanna Fingerhut writes for the Associated Press.

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