Iowa is following in the footsteps of Texas with a new law that would allow state officials to arrest, detain, and remove noncitizens who have reentered the United States after being deported—even if the person returned with permission from the federal government or later gained lawful immigration status. Just like Texas Senate Bill 4 (SB4), however, this new Iowa immigration enforcement law has been challenged in court.

Last week, two lawsuits were filed in an Iowa federal court asking that new law—Senate File 2340 (SF 2340)–be enjoined before it goes into effect on July 1. Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice (Iowa MMJ), a membership-based immigration legal services and advocacy organization, and two Iowa residents filed   their complaint on May 9. That same day, the Department of Justice brought its own lawsuit challenging the law.

The Legal Argument: Iowa’s SF 2340 Violates the Constitution and Makes a Mess of U.S. Immigration Law and Foreign Policy

Both lawsuits argue that Iowa cannot create its own immigration enforcement and removal process. Under the U.S. Constitution, only the federal government gets to decide which noncitizens may enter the United States and which noncitizens should be removed. There are good reasons for this, the lawsuits explain.

  • Immigration law is complex and must be implemented uniformly. But under SF 2340, instead of highly trained federal officers, Iowa law enforcement officials without immigration training would be empowered to prosecute and remove noncitizens for purported immigration violations – even if the federal government has given them permission to stay.
  • Immigration policy impacts foreign policy; on issues of foreign policy, the United States must speak with one voice. SF 2340 would interfere with the United States’ complex relationships with foreign countries by authorizing state officials to deport people to the country from which they entered the United States, even if they aren’t a citizen of that country. For example, SF 2340 requires state judges to order someone removed to Mexico if they crossed into the United States at the U.S.-Mexico border, even if they are not a Mexican citizen—a plan the Mexican government vehemently opposed when Texas proposed the same scheme.

The Harm: A Community in Fear

Iowa’s new law has already spread fear within immigrant communities across the state—fear of racial profiling by law enforcement, fear that loved ones will be arrested and deported by state officials.

Iowa police chiefs and domestic violence advocates warn that SF 2340 will erode trust in local law enforcement, so that crimes will go unreported and unprosecuted and victims will be prevented from seeking protection.

The women who have stepped forward to challenge the law feel this fear acutely.

Plaintiffs Jane Doe and Elizabeth Roe*—both green card holders—waited years to lawfully reunite with their families after being deported. 18-year-old Anna,* a member of Iowa MMJ, has been granted asylum after being deported and returning as a child.
Ms. Doe, a widow and grandmother to 17 U.S. citizen grandchildren, Ms. Roe, a wife and sister to U.S. citizens, and Anna, a high school student, could be arrested, prosecuted, imprisoned, and removed if SF 2340 is allowed to go into effect.

Whether this will happen now rests in the hands of the federal courts.

*The plaintiffs are using pseudonyms to protect their identities.