Staff Columnist

Iowa law and 'zero tolerance'

Shifting federal immigration law could have Iowa impact

The Iowa State Capitol building is seen through tree branches in Des Moines on Feb. 2, 2016. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
The Iowa State Capitol building is seen through tree branches in Des Moines on Feb. 2, 2016. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Local entities will come under a new immigration law on July 1. What remains unclear is how shifting federal law will affect Iowa towns and law enforcement.

Senate File 481, also known as the anti-sanctuary cities bill, creates a process by which communities can be punished for not fully cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Specifically, the state can revoke community funding, if complaints are validated.

The practical ramification is less discretion for local law enforcement agencies, despite increased legal liability and taxpayer burden.

Four days before Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the measure into law, the Trump administration rolled out a new “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, which U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “shall supersede any existing policies.” As a result, between April 19 and May 31, nearly 2,000 migrant children were separated from parents, a Department of Homeland Security official said on a recent conference call with reporters.

There’s no need to rehash the outrage directed at this policy — others have already done so — or debate why President Donald Trump has revisited the process, but I am curious to what extent the Trump policy could manifest within Iowa’s new immigration mandates. After reaching out to immigration and legal experts, there’s no clear answer.

That’s partially because the Iowa law hinges on a broad definition of what constitutes immigration law. It would almost certainly include presidential executive orders, commonly known to hold the force of law, but not necessarily agency policies developed to carry out those orders.

Absent a court ruling, it’s difficult to know how absolute the state’s prohibition on restricting enforcement of immigration truly is. Must local law enforcement cooperate in enforcement actions they find objectionable on religious or moral grounds?

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Without considering how this shifting federal immigration landscape could impact law enforcement officers and the Iowa communities they serve, lawmakers and Gov. Reynolds rushed this bill into law. They did so over the objections of law enforcement agencies and civil rights advocates because it was politically expedient — before the bill gained approval at the Statehouse, Reynolds used it as a campaign fundraiser.

Similar political expendiency led the Trump administration to engage in systemic child abuse as a migration deterrant. Of that, Iowans remember dark history and want no part.

In 1850, Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, which required public officials to assist in the capture of escaped black people or be subject to fines. Local governments were forced into morally offensive acts under the guise of the rule of law.

And, no, Trump’s zero-tolerance policy hasn’t been extended beyond the border — yet. But how many of us, a few months ago, could have imagined the atrosities that would be committed in our name and on our dime?

A clear and bright line existed between the duties of local law enforcement and federal immigration agents for good reason. Come January, the General Assembly must restore it.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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