Iowa GOP rejects police advice on immigration bill

Iowa CitypPolice Chief Jody Matherly speaks Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, at the Iowa Capitol in opposition to Senate File 481 that would withhold state funds to local governments that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. James Q. Lynch/The Gazette
Iowa CitypPolice Chief Jody Matherly speaks Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, at the Iowa Capitol in opposition to Senate File 481 that would withhold state funds to local governments that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. James Q. Lynch/The Gazette

An Iowa House subcommittee this week advanced legislation to require local law enforcement officials to participate in federal immigration enforcement. Republican lawmakers claim they’re fighting for public safety, but Iowa’s own law enforcement professionals say otherwise.

Sadly, too many Iowa lawmakers are swept up in the misguided outrage over so-called sanctuary cities. The proposed crackdown is bad policymaking, uninformed by facts.

We worry about the chilling effect such a proposal might have on Iowa communities. If undocumented immigrants believe local cops will turn them over to the federal government, they may be unlikely to report crimes or assist with unrelated police investigations. That makes us all less safe.

Several local jurisdictions in Iowa have formal or informal policies calling to de-prioritize immigration enforcement. However, that is a far cry from outright refusing to enforce the law, like opponents are making it out to be.

The Iowa City Council approved a policy last year directing the police department not to pursue immigration enforcement in most cases.

However, the city was careful to craft its new rules with the current objections in mind, writing specific exemptions to protect public safety and comply with state and federal law. The council chose to codify the policy through a resolution, but it didn’t change the Iowa City Police Department’s established protocols.

“The ICPD reports that its operations will not be affected by a policy that limits cooperation with federal immigration authorities if there are appropriate safeguards for instances in which there is a threat to public safety and (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) assistance may be prudent,” city attorney Eleanor Dilkes wrote in a 2016 memo to the council.

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Among other things, SF481 would ban local government policies, written or unwritten, which “discourage” immigration enforcement. Iowa Republicans micromanagement of local police is both unneeded and unwelcome.

“If Iowa City is being held up as a boogeyman, that’s incorrect,” Iowa City Police Chief Jody Matherly said during a subcommittee hearing in Des Moines this week. “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.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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