Iowa lawmakers would end 'sanctuary cities'

The State Capitol building is shown in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
The State Capitol building is shown in Des Moines on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A bill aimed at eliminating so-called sanctuary communities in Iowa won approval from the House Public Safety Committee Tuesday despite arguments that it is mean-spirited, unnecessary and could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

On a party-line vote, the Republican-controlled committee approved House Study Bill 558 that prohibits local government from establishing any restrictions on “the enforcement of any federal immigration law to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.”

Floor manager Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, said sanctuary community status makes communities less safe because they attract people who are in violation of immigration law.

However, opponents said he is incorrectly applying the term to 23 Iowa counties where sheriffs do not agree to hold people on ICE detainers without a judge’s order. A federal court has ruled holding people suspected of being in the country illegally on those detainers is not mandatory.

That’s not settled law, Holt said.

Nothing in his bill asks law enforcement to violate the law or anyone’s constitutional rights, but only to cooperate with federal immigration authorities, Holt said.

Under the bill, law enforcement who have reason to believe a person is in the country illegally would send their fingerprints and other identification information to ICE, which could ask the local authorities to hold that individual.

He rejected the idea the bill is anti-immigrant.

“We’re all immigrants,” Holt said. “We have always treasured and embraced immigrants. We have always treasured and embraced legal immigration.”


Sandra Sanchez, director of Iowa Immigrants Voice Program and Board of Immigration Appeals accredited representative, said the law is unnecessary and redundant, and could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

The issues addressed by the bill “are already enforced by either immigration law or the 1996 welfare reform,” she said in an email to committee members. Changes since then have closed the few loopholes that remained.

“Why spend scarce human and financial state resources when the federal government already takes care of such issues?” Sanchez asked. She cited the experience of Colorado where the cost of complying is costing taxpayers about $13 million a year.

Approving a redundant law would be a misuse of lawmakers’ time given that federal agencies have the funds and staffing to address the issues in HSB 558, Sanchez added.

Involving local law enforcement and others distracts from investigating and solving serious crimes, said Connie Ryan of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund. It also would discourage crime victims and witnesses to come forward out of fear of being deported. In many cases, she explained, the victims have been abused by a spouse of partner. If deported, their children could be left in the custody of the abuser.

The bill also would “incentivize law enforcement to prioritize immigration status over victim safety,” Ryan said.

Holt said he doesn’t know the future of the bill because it hasn’t been discussed by the full House GOP caucus.



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