Local Government

Sanctuary city robocalls lead to busy phone lines at Iowa City Hall

City Council to discuss the issue at work session Tuesday

City Hall is shown in Iowa City on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
City Hall is shown in Iowa City on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)


IOWA CITY — Phones at Iowa City Hall have been ringing off the hook this week after residents received automated phone messages saying the City Council would be discussing the possibility of becoming a sanctuary for immigrants.

The robocall, from Des Moines-based Priorities for Iowa, urged residents to call council members and City Hall to sound off on the concept of “sanctuary cities” — or those cities that decide to go only so far to help federal immigration authorities.

The automated call also encouraged people to attend a work session at 5 p.m. Tuesday when the council is scheduled to discuss the concept of sanctuary cities.

The meeting is at City Hall, 410 E. Washington St. While work sessions are open to the public, they are not public hearings and residents should not expect to be able to address the council on the subject Tuesday.

Jimmy Centers, executive director of Priorities for Iowa, who previously served as Gov. Terry Branstad’s spokesman, confirmed his organization is behind the calls.

“We believe that Iowans deserve to have their voices heard on an issue of this magnitude,” he said. “We’ll continue to watch issues throughout the state at every level of government.”

On the specific issue of Iowa City becoming a sanctuary city, Centers said it’s difficult for his organization to take a stand before a specific policy is proposed.


“Our organization and our members in the Iowa City area have concern over the proposed policy, but we’re reserving judgment until the ... City Council has a more formal proposal before them,” Centers said in an email to The Gazette. “As you know, this is just a work session on Tuesday, so we find it difficult to take a more formal position when the policy hasn’t been revealed to the public.”

Some cities around the nation are declaring themselves sanctuaries and vowing not to cooperate with President-elect Donald Trump if he follows through on campaign rhetoric of mass deportations for undocumented immigrants.

Iowa City Mayor Jim Throgmorton said discussion about sanctuary cities was placed on Tuesday’s agenda after city officials received requests from a “substantial number” of residents to declare Iowa City a sanctuary city.

Throgmorton said in the wake of the robocalls, more than 100 calls on the matter had come in to City Hall by noon Wednesday. He said there have been more calls and emails since, but he didn’t know just how many.

When the issue of declaring itself a sanctuary city arose about five years ago, the City Council decided then not to.

On the Priorities for Iowa website, prioritiesforiowa.com, Iowa City is discussed in a post entitled, “Iowa City to become a Sanctuary City?”

It urges Iowa City residents to call City Hall and attend Tuesday’s session. It also lists the names and contact information for Iowa City Council members.

Priorities for Iowa was established in 2013, according to the Iowa Secretary of State’s Office.


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In 2014, the organization spent more than $1.2 million on materials against Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Braley in his loss to Sen. Joni Ernst, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Responsive Politics. Its donors included the Joseph W. Craft Revocable Trust, which has connections to Alliance Resource Partners, one of the nation’s largest coal producers; Property Casualty Insurers Association of America; and World Wrestling Entertainment former Chief Executive Officer Linda McMahon, who recently was tapped by Trump to head the Small Business Administration, the center reports.

This year, Priorities for Iowa spent more than $107,000 on materials against Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patty Judge, who lost to incumbent Sen. Chuck Grassley, the center said.

Robocall text

Jimmy Centers, executive director of Priorities for Iowa, on Thursday released this transcript of a robocall he said is being received by Iowa City area residents: 

“This is Priorities for Iowa Inc. The Iowa City City Council agreed to explore the topic of becoming a Sanctuary City at its Tuesday, Jan. 3 work session. Your voice needs to be heard.

Recently, The Iowa City Mayor explained that several community members have come forward to suggest the city declare itself a sanctuary city in response to the new federal administration. Priorities for Iowa is encouraging members of the Iowa City community and its neighbors to attend the meeting or to contact local Iowa City officials. You can do so by calling (319) 356-5043 or by emailing council at iowa-city.org.

If you would like to be connected the Iowa City City Council please press 1 now. Iowa City Council members plan to explore ways to better protect illegal immigrants through city policy.

The City Council work session will be open to the public on Jan. 3 at 5 p.m. at Iowa City City Hall. 410 E. Washington St. Iowa City. Please take action. If you would like to be connected the Iowa City City Council please press 1 now! This message was paid for by Priorities for Iowa Inc. (515) 344-4227.”




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