The immigration debate has confronted Iowa and the nation with some fundamental questions about the rule of law and separation of powers. Who has the power to set immigration policy, and who is compelled to obey?
For example, President Donald Trump initially suggested he was required to detain and separate families suspected of crossing the border illegally, but later changed course and signed an executive order to “maintain family unity.”
Meanwhile, several governors said this week they will bar their National Guard troops from participating in immigration enforcement. Gov. Kim Reynolds stopped short of such a commitment, telling reporters “I think we need to wait and see what they’re asking of the National Guard, and we’ll respond at that point.”
And as Congress continues its work on an immigration reform bill, conservative members are demanding to include language to undermine “sanctuary city” policies, which limit local involvement in immigration enforcement.
Iowa already has such a law, and it’s set to take effect on July 1. Earlier this year, The Iowa Legislature passed and Reynolds signed a law commonly called a “sanctuary city ban,” which prohibits local governments from taking any action which discourages cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
The law also requires all law enforcement agencies in the state to “fully comply” with federal requests to detain people in custody who are suspected of being in the country illegally. That includes cases with no warrant or probable cause of a crime, a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Any person, including federal agents, will be able to file a complaint against local governments which aren’t in compliance. The attorney general is tasked with reviewing such complaints, and violators would be denied state funds the following year.
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The law is a response to municipal policies in Iowa City and several sheriff’s offices across the state. The Iowa City City Council approved a resolution last year stating the city will not devote any resources to enforcing federal immigration law, except as required by state or federal law. Similarly, Johnson County government published a statement to say the sheriff’s office does not honor “voluntary detainer requests” or participate in immigration enforcement raids.
Both the city’s legal office and the sheriff told me this week their policies are compliant with the law. Critics may disagree, setting up a battle fitting of a nation founded on non-compliance.
Our founders wrote more about due process and the separation of powers than about federal or state supremacy. Several important figures from our nation’s history even supported nullification, a legal theory holding lower governments can rightfully ignore higher laws they find unpalatable.
Immigrant rights organizations hosted an event in Iowa City this week titled, “Keeping ICE Out of Iowa,” featuring guidance on how immigrants and allies should respond to immigration agents. Those activists — not anyone in Washington, D.C. — are the Thomas Jeffersons and James Madisons of our time.
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