Iowa governor signs bill that allows for arrest of some migrants


It will be a state crime for a person to be in Iowa if previously denied admission to or removed from the United States under a bill signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds on Wednesday.

The law, which takes effect July 1, targets “certain aliens,” according to the text of Senate File 2340. It has elevated anxiety in Iowa’s immigrant communities and has prompted questions among legal experts and law enforcement on how it will be enforced. It mirrors part of a Texas law that is currently blocked in court.

In Iowa and across the country, Republican leaders have accused President Biden of neglecting his responsibilities to enforce federal immigration law, leading Republican governors to send troops to Texas and legislatures to propose a variety of state-level strategies.

“The Biden Administration has failed to enforce our nation’s immigration laws, putting the protection and safety of Iowans at risk,” Reynolds said in a statement after signing the bill. “This bill gives Iowa law enforcement the power to do what he is unwilling to do: enforce immigration laws already on the books.”

After the Legislature passed the bill, Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert told The Associated Press in an email in March that immigration status does not factor into the department’s work to keep the community safe. He said the force is “not equipped, funded or staffed” to take on responsibilities that are the federal government’s.

“Simply stated, not only do we not have the resources to assume this additional task, we don’t even have the ability to perform this function,” Wingert said.

Kim Reynolds
Kim Reynolds, governor of Iowa, speaks during a campaign event in Elkader, Iowa, on Dec. 29, 2023. 

Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images


Shawn Ireland, president of the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association and a deputy sheriff in Linn County, also said in a March email that law enforcement officials would have to consult with county attorneys for guidance on implementation and enforcement.

The Iowa legislation, like the Texas law, could mean criminal charges for people who have outstanding deportation orders or who have previously been removed from or denied admission to the U.S. Once in custody, migrants could either agree to a judge’s order to leave the U.S. or be prosecuted.

The judge’s order must identify the transportation method for leaving the U.S. and a law enforcement officer or Iowa agency to monitor migrants’ departures. Those who don’t leave could face rearrest under more serious charges.

The Texas law is stalled in court after a challenge from the U.S. Department of Justice that says it conflicts with the federal government’s immigration authority.

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

In the meantime, Iowa’s immigrant community groups are organizing informational meetings and materials to try to answer people’s questions. They’re also asking local and county law enforcement agencies for official statements, as well as face-to-face meetings.

At one community meeting in Des Moines, 80 people gathered and asked questions in Spanish, including: “Should I leave Iowa?”

Others asked: “Is it safe to call the police?” “Can Iowa police ask me about my immigration status?” And: “What happens if I’m racially profiled?”



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