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Judge plans to rule on Iowa immigration law before it takes effect July 1

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Judge plans to rule on Iowa immigration law before it takes effect July 1

Jun 10, 2024 | 5:40 pm ET
By Robin Opsahl
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Judge plans to rule on Iowa immigration law before it takes effect July 1
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Advocates with Escucha Mi Voz and the Iowa Catholic Worker rallied outside the federal courthouse in Des Moines on June 10, 2024 ahead of a hearing on a controversial Iowa immigration law. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

A federal district court judge said Monday he will “do his best” to make a decision on whether to block an Iowa immigration law before it is set to go into effect July 1.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Locher heard from lawyers with the U.S. Department of Justice, American Immigration Council and Patrick Valencia, the state’s deputy solicitor general, about a motion to enjoin Senate File 2340. The measure was signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds in April.

The law would give state law enforcement officials the ability to charge undocumented immigrants with an aggravated misdemeanor if they are found in the state after having been previously deported, denied admission or removed from the U.S., or if they have an order to leave the country.

State courts are allowed to order the deportation of people charged under the law, and law enforcement and state agencies would be able to transport migrants to U.S. ports of entry to ensure they leave the country. Failure to comply with a deportation order would be a felony.

In May, DOJ officials announced plans to file a lawsuit to block enforcement of the law, arguing the state law infringes on federal authority over immigration laws and enforcement. Christopher Eiswerth, an attorney for the department, repeated this argument in court, saying that the law would exceed limits on state officials operating as federal immigration officials set by previous court precedents.

Eiswerth also said that there are negative “real world impacts” that could result from the law’s enforcement, both in terms of foreign relations and for legal U.S. residents. For example, he said, the law does not grant specific exemptions for people who have previously been denied entry or deported from the country but who have since become legal citizens.

Emma Winger, deputy legal director for the American Immigration Council, spoke on behalf of a coalition of civil rights groups and Iowa plaintiffs who could be impacted by the law. Those represented include an 18-year-old immigrant who was deported as a child and later granted asylum, and a member of the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice who was previously deported and does not have legal resident status but is currently providing health care support to his sister, a U.S. citizen.

“Under the Constitution, only the federal government gets to decide which noncitizens may enter the United States and which noncitizens should be removed,” Winger said in a news conference hosted by the ACLU. “… Ultimately, these types of laws create absolute chaos and human suffering and have no place in our legal system.”

Other states have implemented similar state-level immigration laws. The Iowa measure was modeled after a 2023 Texas law on illegal immigration that is currently under a preliminary injunction, and Oklahoma has an state immigration enforcement law also being challenged by the DOJ.

Charges under the Iowa law are focused on people who have reentered the country after being removed while the other state laws deal with a wider scope of undocumented immigration. But Winger said the same legal arguments apply over whether the states or federal government have jurisdiction over immigration.

“The legal arguments for why the Texas law is preempted are basically the same as the legal arguments for why the Iowa law is preempted,” she said. “The conflicts with the federal scheme, and the degree to which the federal government has sort of total control over the issues that Iowa and Texas are trying to control — those arguments are really the same and apply with equal force here as they do in Texas.”

Valencia argued that Iowa is not overstepping federal authority through the state law, as the measure does not contain new immigration rules. The law would just allow state authorities to enforce existing federal laws, he said, adding that the plaintiffs brought forward in the case would not be subject to the law because of their legal U.S. residency.

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird released a statement saying that since President Joe Biden “refuses to enforce our immigration laws, Iowa is doing the job for him.”

“Today, we made the case in court defending Iowa’s law that prohibits illegal reentry and keeps our communities safe,” Bird said. “If Biden invested half as much energy into securing our borders as he does suing states like Iowa, we would all be better off.”

As the hearing took place, immigrant advocates with Escucha Mi Voz and the Iowa Catholic Worker rallied outside the court house in Des Moines calling for the law to be blocked.

“Our message to Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird is, stop defending this unconstitutional, anti-God law,” the Rev. Nils Hernandez with the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Waterloo said in a news release.