Republican State Representative Steve Holt has described a bill seeking to ban "sanctuary cities" in Iowa as a "common-sense issue for a lot of people." At an Iowa House Public Safety subcommittee meeting on January 30, Holt and fellow Republican Greg Heartsill voted to advance this poorly thought-out and possibly unconstitutional legislation, even though supporters couldn't recruit a single person to speak in favor of it.
Barbara Rodriguez explained the key points of Senate File 481 in her recent story for the Associated Press:
The bill would prohibit policies that don’t allow local authorities to:
— Question the immigration status of people under lawful detention or arrest.
— Assist federal immigration agents with arrests.
— Use any Iowa jail as part of federal agents’ work.
Local governments that intentionally violate provisions would be denied state funding.
Although Iowa has no "sanctuary cities," the American Civil Liberties Union has identified more than two dozen county jails that "decided against holding people at the request of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) simply because the individuals are suspected of not having proper immigration authorization." The Des Moines Register noted in a staff editorial last month,
It’s important to understand that these immigration detainer requests are exactly that — requests, not demands. Some are issued in error. Federal courts have upheld the right of local law enforcement to deny such requests and have found that they can be unconstitutional.
So local officials may be concerned about filling up limited jail space with people who may or may not have violated federal administrative rules. They certainly should be worried about the liability of keeping someone in custody when federal judges have warned them against doing so.
And if local police start enforcing federal immigration law, think about how that affects their jobs and the trust they’re trying to build among immigrant communities.
Brianne Pfannenstiel covered the January 30 subcommittee hearing for the Des Moines Register.
Several chiefs of police testified, saying the legislation undermines the trust they've worked to build in their communities; the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa argued that the bill would open cities up to legal liability for violating the U.S. Constitution; and domestic violence prevention advocates worried that undocumented immigrants would be less likely to report crime and abuse out of a fear of deportation.
"What I’m concerned about with this type of discussion and this type of legislation is it actually works to diminish public safety in our communities," said Michael Tupper, chief of police in Marshalltown. "We want to build positive relationships in our community. We want people to trust law enforcement. We want people to cooperate with law enforcement. And legislation such as this serves to cause people to go back into the shadows."
Democratic State Representative Wes Breckenridge, a police lieutenant in Newton, made a similar case against the bill before casting the only "no" vote on the subcommittee.
Why didn't anyone show up to back Holt's pet project? Pfannenstiel quoted the House manager's lame excuse: "Those who support this legislation are at home raising their families and going to work and they expect us here to do our jobs."
Speaking of people who do their jobs, here's the list of organizations registered against Senate File 481.
Iowa League of Cities
Iowa Attorney General's office
Iowa Police Chief Association (FKA Iowa Police Executive Forum)
Iowa County Attorneys Association
Iowa State Association of County Supervisors
Iowa State Sheriffs' & Deputies' Association
American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa
Iowa State Bar Association
Child and Family Policy Center
Iowa Catholic Conference
Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
Interfaith Alliance of Iowa Action Fund
American Friends Service Committee Iowa
Episcopal Diocese of Iowa
AFSCME Council 61
Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance
Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault
League of Women Voters of Iowa
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund
Grow Clinton County
City of Iowa City
The only organization lobbying for this bill is the fringe group Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps.
Despite the multitude of problems this policy would create, the full Public Safety Committee and Iowa House will likely send the sanctuary cities ban to Governor Kim Reynolds, who has indicated she will sign it. Who needs logic when you can demagogue against immigrants living here without authorization?
Sad to say, four Senate Democrats joined all the Republicans present to vote for this bill last April: Chaz Allen, Tod Bowman, Jeff Danielson, and Amanda Ragan. (Democratic Senator Rich Taylor voted "present" during that debate, saying "voting was in violation of his oath of office and the senate rules.") Allen, Bowman, and Ragan could face strong challenges in their re-election bids later this year, while Danielson has had several hard-fought elections in his swing district.
Senators Kevin Kinney and Rita Hart, who may be on the GOP's target list in 2018 too, didn't let fear of attack ads stop them from doing the right thing when Senate File 481 came before the upper chamber. Independent Senator David Johnson also had the courage to vote against the sanctuary cities legislation, despite representing one of the state's most conservative districts.
Here's hoping not a single Iowa House Democrat goes on record supporting this terrible bill.
UPDATE: From Lynda Waddington's column in the Cedar Rapids Gazette:
According to the Legislative Services Agency, the bill could “potentially impact a wide range of state funding, which includes: Road Use Tax Fund allocations, grants and reimbursements; state property tax replacements, tuition replacement, flood mitigation projects, community college funding, grants made by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and many other areas.”
State lawmakers want law enforcement officials to put themselves in legal jeopardy and to perform federal immigration enforcement to the detriment of community policing practices that reap real public safety benefits.
Worst of all, and despite their election year haze, lawmakers know all of this. They completely understand, if this bill becomes law, local residents are going to bear its financial burden, either through compliance with its unfunded mandates or by running afoul of them.
We know they understand it because of the bill’s final sentence: “Section 25B.2, subsection 3, shall not apply to this Act.” That piece of the Iowa Code allows local entities to ignore unfunded state mandates.
SECOND UPDATE: Marshalltown chief of police Michael Tupper and Storm Lake chief of police Mark Prosser published this joint commentary in the Marshalltown Times-Republican on February 9.
The bill is meant to ensure community safety, but it would strain relationships with the communities we serve and protect.
We speak as leaders with 62 combined years of law enforcement experience. As such, we know how precious energy and resources are for our state’s police departments. Iowa’s proposed crackdown on sanctuary cities is a waste of resources, because it addresses a problem that doesn’t exist. There are no sanctuary cities in Iowa. Our state’s local law enforcement already works with federal authorities on criminal investigations. The bill requires police to alert Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of arrests of illegal immigrants, and that system is already in place and automated. In the majority of cases, ICE doesn’t respond to local arrests.
Beyond the bill’s inefficiency, it introduces a dangerous infringement on local control of local issues. It legislates policy in an arena where no other policy is legislated, such as use of force, proper equipment, and standards of conduct. It asks local law enforcement to address an issue that is best left to federal authorities. Creating and enforcing immigration laws is the purview of our federal partners. Asking local and state law enforcement to enforce immigration laws puts a strain on already strapped police units. We simply don’t have the training or time to enforce federal immigration policy.
Most significant, the proposed bill would diminish the trust that keeps our cities safe in the first place. We depend on residents, including immigrants, to come to us when they see something suspicious or potentially criminal. If they hear of a looming “crackdown” that could affect their families and friends, they are less likely to come to us to report and prevent actual crimes. Our state’s growing immigrant population — about 150,000 individuals, or 5 percent of Iowa residents — will be confused and scared by this bill. We believe SF 481 would undo all the relational trust and goodwill we have built over many years.
Top image: State Representative Art Staed's photo of the Iowa House Public Safety subcommittee meeting on January 30. Used with permission.