On April 10, Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill that would withhold state funding from so-called sanctuary cities. The new law takes effect July 1 and gives Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) free reign to force local jails to detain people beyond their initial release. Local governments are also forced to assist ICE in immigration enforcement if it is deemed “reasonable or necessary.”
The law is in part a response to Johnson County and Iowa City enacting policies that limit their cooperation with ICE. Johnson County officials now plan to fight the law in court.
Their resistance to the law is more than justified.
Detaining people just to verify their immigration status violates Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. It also instills fear of law enforcement in immigrant communities by turning local officials into immigration agents. By disregarding these concerns, Iowa lawmakers have shown that they are both reckless and completely out of touch with their own state’s history.
On May 12, 2008, ICE sent helicopters, vans, and hundreds of agents to raid a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. In just one day, they arrested 10 percent of the town’s population of 2,300.
Half of the school system’s 600 students were absent the next day because their parents were either detained or hiding. In an interview with the Washington Post, local school superintendent, David Strudthoff, said the raid was “like a natural disaster.”
In the raid’s aftermath, over 200 unauthorized immigrants were deported and many families were separated.
When ICE detained Rosa Zamora, they promised her that nothing would happen if she gave them her name and told them about her daughters. They released her after attaching a tracking device to her ankle. Then they arrested and deported her husband. Left financially devastated, Zamora relied on church donations to feed her children.
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Pedro Lopez Vega was 13 when his mother was detained. His father, who also worked at the meat processing plant, lost his job and had to find work on a farm. Even though Pedro helped his father with the labor, his family struggled without his mother’s income. “There were times that we didn’t have enough money for groceries or to pay all the bills, so my older sister and my dad would decide which one we needed, the light or the water,” Pedro said in an interview with Vox.
Even though the raid took place in a single Iowa city, the trauma rippled through the entire state. In 2017, researchers at the University of Michigan published a study in the Journal of Epidemiology, which found that Latina mothers that gave birth in the 37 weeks following the raid were 24 percent more likely to deliver babies with low birth weights. These results were found in both American-born and immigrant mothers.
Postville is the ultimate case study on how ICE raids can devastate entire communities. If there is any state that should understand the importance of letting cities limit their cooperation with ICE, it’s Iowa.
• Sam Peak writes about immigration for Young Voices, a nonprofit cultivating young thought leaders.