House bill bars 'sanctuary' jurisdictions in Iowa

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DES MOINES — A House subcommittee Thursday passed a bill aimed at curbing government sanctuary policies whereby state or local officials fail to share information or cooperate with federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws.

House Study Bill 558 would prohibit the state of Iowa, cities and counties and any of their agencies, officers or employees from adopting or enforcing any rule, ordinance, policy or procedure “that limits or restricts the enforcement of any federal immigration law to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.”

The measure also would prohibit the state, cities or counties from withholding information about a person’s immigration status. Law enforcement officials also couldn’t be prohibited from gathering such information.

Rep. Greg Heartsill, a Melcher-Dallas Republican, said the proposed statute is an effort to make certain state and local officials “can’t turn a blind eye” to someone’s immigration status if they are in the country illegally.

Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, said there are more than 300 jurisdictions — including several in Iowa that he did not specify — that are considered “sanctuary” cities or counties that protect undocumented immigrants from deportation by refusing to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainers or otherwise impeding open communication between their employees and federal immigration agents.

“No one is above the law. It is important for the safety and security of our citizens that we enforce immigration laws and that we cooperate with the federal government in the enforcement of immigration laws and the deportation of those who are in our country illegally,” Holt told a House Public Safety subcommittee Thursday. “It’s unacceptable that any citizen in the state of Iowa should lose their life as the result of an individual who is here illegally because of a sanctuary policy.”

However, Peter McRoberts, a lobbyist for the ACLU of Iowa, said at least two dozen county sheriffs and county attorneys are refusing to honor ICE detainers to hold suspects believed to be undocumented for 48 hours. The counties cite concerns over the constitutionality and liability for such action when ICE fails to respond in a timely manner to pick up the detainees.

“We believe that is a relatively clear violation of the United States Constitution” to hold someone indefinitely without a criminal charge, he said. In opposing the bill on constitutional, procedural and liability grounds, McRoberts said state and local jurisdictions should not take the risk for issues that are the responsibility of federal agencies.

“ICE has responsibility to show up on time,” he said, “don’t tell sheriffs you’re on the hook if we don’t show up.”

Rita Carter of the United Methodist Church said the shift represented an unfunded mandate for local governments, while Tom Chapman of the Iowa Catholic Conference said “immigration is a very complex problem” that requires prudent solutions for situations such as detaining children who are in the country illegally and issuing alternative driver’s licenses to keep Iowa roads safe.

“I just would question whether this bill is the right way to deal with it,” Chapman told the three-lawmaker panel.

Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, asked, “What problem are we trying to solve with this bill?” and said she did not like to make laws based on individual cases.

The bill passed the subcommittee Thursday and could get consideration from the full House Public Safety Committee as early as next week.

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