Controversial Bill Makes Being in Iowa a State Crime for Previously Denied or Removed Individuals

DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds has signed a bill into law that makes it a state crime for a person to be in Iowa if they have previously been denied admission or removed from the United States. The law, which will go into effect on July 1, has raised concerns among Iowa’s immigrant communities and has sparked discussions among legal experts and law enforcement officials about its enforcement. This legislation, known as Senate File 2340, closely resembles a Texas law that is currently facing legal challenges.

Leaders of the Iowa Latinx community perceive this law as an attack on their community and fear that it could result in racial profiling. Joe Henry, a representative of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), emphasized the importance of immigrants to the state’s economy and vowed to fight the law on constitutional grounds. Republican leaders in Iowa and across the country have accused President Joe Biden of neglecting his duty to enforce federal immigration law, prompting some governors to deploy troops to the border and propose state-level strategies.

In response to the concerns raised by the new law, Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert issued a statement clarifying that immigration status does not affect the department’s efforts to ensure community safety. Wingert expressed that the police force lacks the necessary resources and capacity to assume responsibilities that are the federal government’s jurisdiction. Shawn Ireland, president of the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association, similarly explained that law enforcement officials would seek guidance from county attorneys regarding the implementation and enforcement of the law.

Under this new legislation, individuals with outstanding deportation orders or previous removal or denial of admission to the U.S. may face criminal charges. Once in custody, they will have the option to comply with a judge’s order to leave the country or face prosecution. The judge’s order will include information on the method of transportation for departure from the U.S. and the law enforcement officer or Iowa agency responsible for monitoring the process. Failure to comply with the order may lead to rearrest on more serious charges.

The Texas law, which serves as a model for the Iowa legislation, remains in legal limbo after the U.S. Department of Justice challenged its compatibility with federal immigration authority. Immigration law expert Huyen Pham from Texas A&M School of Law explained that the Iowa law raises the same questions of implementation and enforcement as its Texas counterpart, as the process of deportation is often complicated, expensive, and dangerous.

Meanwhile, immigrant community groups in Iowa are organizing informational meetings and materials to address concerns and provide support. They are also seeking official statements and face-to-face meetings with local and county law enforcement agencies. At a recent community meeting in Des Moines, individuals gathered to ask questions in Spanish, including inquiries about their safety, interactions with the police, and the possibility of racial profiling.

It remains to be seen how the Iowa law will be enforced and whether it will face legal challenges similar to the Texas law. However, the legislation has already prompted discussions about the role of local law enforcement in immigration matters and the potential repercussions for immigrant communities in Iowa.