DES MOINES — The Republican-led Iowa Senate voted Wednesday night to send Gov. Kim Reynolds legislation to crack down on Iowa counties and cities that fail to cooperate with federal immigration authorities seeking to deport undocumented immigrants.
Senate File 481 would impose financial sanctions against local governments that provide sanctuary to potentially illegal immigrants rather than cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
“What this bill does is legal. It’s constitutional,” said Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, the bill’s floor manager.
“We are ensuring that law enforcement’s going to work with ICE in the future,” he added. “... Communities will be able to deport some of their criminals. I don’t know why they wouldn’t want to do that.”
Opponents of the bill, passed by party line vote, said it was intended to score political points while scaring, intimidating and dividing Iowans.
But Garrett countered that “the people of the state of Iowa are in favor of this bill.”
The measure was supported by 28 Republicans, while 17 Democrats and one independent opposed it and one Democrat voted present.
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The bill, approved by the House 55-45 on Tuesday, would require law enforcement agencies to comply with federal immigration detainer requests for people in their custody. In addition, the legislation would prohibit local governments from discouraging enforcement officers or others from activities related to enforcing immigration laws.
“This bill has no heart whatsoever,” said independent Sen. David Johnson of Ocheyedan,
Johnson blasted the measure as an unfunded mandate for local entities by requiring them to hold people without a court order and makes them potentially financially liable, while not providing any money to cities and counties for their costs.
“I’m going to go home and take a shower because I feel so dirty,” he said. “What stains one of us, stains us all.”
Supporters and opponents of the bill agreed there are no so-called sanctuary cities in Iowa today, but Garrett said officials in Iowa City and Johnson County have trod close to the line, making the bill necessary.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, called the bill “fear-mongering” and “disrespectful” toward the work of local law enforcement agencies. He also said the legislation “sends an absolutely terrible message” to young people and workers Iowa is trying to attract. The bill, he said, “makes us all less safe,”
Garrett said the bill was intended to address situations that arise when federal immigrations officials believe someone in custody is in the country illegally and subject to deportation. He said the vast majority of local law enforcement complies with the requests and cooperates with federal authorities, but there are a few who don’t.
“If you’re against Senate File 481, you’re for the free flow of illegal immigrants into Iowa,” said Sen. Rick Bertrand, R-Sioux City, after the vote. “The rest of this is just window-dressing and pandering.”
The legislation, which the governor has indicated she will sign, is intended to address that problem by creating a sanction whereby offending local entities could be denied state funds for up to 90 days for violating the law’s provisions. That would apply to road-use tax funds, state property tax replacements, tuition replacement, flood mitigation projects, community college funding, Iowa Economic Development Authority grants and other state funds.
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“We’re passing a bill that’s unconstitutional and poorly written,” said Sen. Matt McCoy, D-Des Moines, who added that supporters of the measure could not cite a single case, “not one example,” where law enforcement officials in Iowa had not committed violations the bill seeks to address. “We are trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”
Sen. Jim Carlin, R-Sioux City, said crimes committed by suspected undocumented immigrants are “statistically significant enough” to have the ability to hold them for 48 hours to give federal officials more time to establish their identification and their immigration status. “This is not about race,” he said. “It’s about protecting people. It’s about safety.”
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