Iowa House panel OKs bill to punish sanctuary cities

Proposal aimed at cities - like Iowa City - that might not cooperate with feds

Latinos from around Iowa rallied at the Capitol in Des Moines on Thursday , Jan. 25, 2018, to promote their legislative goals. They heard from Gov. Kim Reynolds and legislators.



Among their issues is stopping Senate File 481, which basically is an attempt to deny state funds to local governments that are so-called sanctuary cities.



(Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
Latinos from around Iowa rallied at the Capitol in Des Moines on Thursday , Jan. 25, 2018, to promote their legislative goals. They heard from Gov. Kim Reynolds and legislators. Among their issues is stopping Senate File 481, which basically is an attempt to deny state funds to local governments that are so-called sanctuary cities. (Rod Boshart/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
2018 LEGISLATIVE SESSION STORIES

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DES MOINES — Law enforcement, prosecutors and immigrant rights advocates said a bill threatening to withhold state funds from so-called sanctuary cities was unnecessary and likely would make communities less safe.

However, a House Public Safety subcommittee moved the bill forward to full committee consideration, with the chairman arguing it was the ounce of prevention needed to prevent future problems.

“I think we’re trying to solve a problem that does not exist in Iowa,” Marshalltown police Chief Michael Tupper told a subcommittee on Senate File 481.

“I’m not aware of any communities in Iowa that do not cooperate with the federal government or their law enforcement partners.”

Jasper County Attorney Michael Jacobsen found himself in the unusual position of agreeing with the ACLU that the law, as written, increases his county’s likelihood of being sued if someone is held for federal immigration authorities without a warrant.

However, Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, supported the bill the Senate passed 32-15 last year because he believes “the majority of Iowans would be in support of following the rule of law and cooperating with federal authorities.”

He’s also concerned that some Iowa communities may be thinking of becoming sanctuary cities to offer a safe haven to illegal immigrants.

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“We have a couple of cities who are rumbling in terms of suggesting they are not going to cooperate with federal immigration authorities,” he said after the hearing. “Not acceptable in Iowa, and we need to move to stop it.”

Iowa City is one of those cities Holt and others referred to as a sanctuary city or moving in that direction.

But Iowa City police Chief Jody Matherly tried to disabuse the subcommittee of that notion. A resolution adopted by the Iowa City Council last year “simply reaffirmed our role as it has always been — we prioritize public safety, we have the latitude to make decisions to embrace the (immigrant) community so they are comfortable talking to us, comfortable reporting crimes and that keeps everybody safe.”

He rejected references to Iowa City as a sanctuary city.

“That’s not us,” Matherly said after speaking to the subcommittee. He pointed out that the federal Department of Justice did not include Iowa City when it identified about 30 sanctuary cities around the country.

“If Iowa City is being held up as a boogeyman, that’s incorrect,” he said. “We’re not a sanctuary city. We’re not intended to be. We treat everybody fairly and consistently under the Constitution. It’s as simple as that.”

He also pointed out that just last week Immigration and Customs Enforcement picked up a person being held in jail after the federal agency was notified of that person’s presence.

Speakers warned that SF 481 would hurt the relationship between law enforcement and the immigrant community.

Alexa Rodriguez of Windsor Heights expressed concern that the bill would increase racial profiling “that I, as a citizen, face because of the color of my skin.”

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An immigrant, who identified herself only as Jackie, said she had been brought up being told to never call the police. However, when she and her father were threatened, she did.

“Ever since then, I do trust the police,” she said. “If this bill happens, that trust would be taken away. Please do not take that basic level of protection away from us.”

Police chiefs joined immigrants in warning that SF 481 could erode relationships they see as necessary in protecting their communities.

“Those relationships are imperative so we are partners in crime prevention, that folks are not afraid to report crimes when they’ve been victimized,” said Storm Lake police Chief Mark Prosser. Conversations and rumors about the bill “greatly impact our ability to create, maintain and grow relationships.”

Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy warned the bill could erode Iowa’s 10th Amendment protections from federal interference in state matters.

A request by federal immigration officials for a sheriff’s department to detain someone “is not an order, is not a mandate.”

“This bill would allow them to, in a sense, federalize us, mandate that we comply with their request,” he said. “That’s a little bit problematic from the standpoint we have the 10th Amendment that federal law enforcement can’t tell us what we have to do. I don’t think, given 200 years of positive history in this direction, we want to cross this line.”

Holt and Rep. Greg Heartsill, R-Chariton, supported the bill. Rep. Wes Breckenridge, D-Newton, did not.

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After sending the bill to the full Public Safety Committee, Holt acknowledged that although more than 50 people packed the meeting room, no one spoke in favor of SF 481. That didn’t surprise him.

“It is always the case with any issue we deal with here, the folks who come to speak normally for something are those opposed to something, not those who are OK with it,” Holt said. “That’s the situation today. The folks who support this legislation, who I talk to on every doorstep when I’m door-knocking my community, which I do every year, have talked to me about sanctuary cities and their belief it makes them less safe.”

As they filed out of the meeting room, people told the lawmakers, “Shame on you” and “Inhumane.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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