·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Federal Court Hears Arguments For and Against Iowa Immigration Enforcement Law

— June 11, 2024

The federal judge overseeing the case said that he will work quickly to respond to requests for an injunction against Iowa Senate File 2340, but expects any decision he makes to be appealed.

A coalition of civil rights attorneys recently presented arguments against a controversial Iowa law, telling a Des Moines-based federal court that an act criminalizing “illegal re-entry” to the United States—and allowing local law enforcement to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants—is an unconstitutional usurpation of federal power.

According to the Des Moines Register, U.S. District Judge Stephen Locher heard arguments for two closely-related lawsuits, each of which seeks an injunction against Iowa Senate File 2340, which is scheduled to take effect on July 1.

One of the complaints, notes the Register, was filed by the federal Department of Justice, whereas the other was lodged by lawyers from the American Immigration Council, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa.

“We asked the federal court to temporarily and permanently block this unconstitutional and unjust and deeply harmful law from ever taking effect,” said Rita Bettis Austin, the legal director of the ACLU of Iowa.

Senate File 2340, if enforced, would prohibit any person who has been previously deported or denied entry to the United States from entering Iowa. Most violations of the law would be charged as a misdemeanor. However, some immigrants—including those who have been arrested for allegedly committing a felony—could face harsher penalties.

The law directs that Iowa courts order the deportation of immigrations who have been arrested, charged, and convicted under its provisions.

Des Moines, Iowa skyline. Image via Wikimedia Commons/user:Shimo. Public domain.

In court, American Immigration Council Deputy Director Emma Winger said that Senate File 2340 unlawfully accords the state powers that have long been considered the exclusive purview of the federal government.

“Only the federal government gets to decide which non-citizens may enter the United State—and which non-citizens should be removed,” Winger told the court.

Winger also noted that the law does not appear to contain any exceptions for persons who had been previously deported from the United States before being permitted to re-enter, whether as asylum-seekers or under other circumstances.

“Should this law go into effect, even if you are currently [lawfully present] in the United States, if you were deported—you could be arrested, imprisoned, and forced to leave the country,” she said.

However, Iowa Deputy Solicitor General Patrick Valencia said that, even if the “federal government sets standards” on immigration policy, “Congress has not said that states lose their right to enforce those standards.”

“We have a law that adopts the federal standard,” Valencia said, adding that Senate File 2340 only permits the state to remand convicted migrants into the custody of “federal immigration officers at one of Iowa’s ports of entry.”

“Under [Senate File 2340], federal officials retain their discretion to offer asylum or other removal relief at U.S. ports of entry,” the state said.

The Department of Justice, for its part, maintained a straightforward stance—that Iowa, as a state, is not entitled to create and enforce an immigration policy independent of that established by the federal government.

“It’s clearly a federal responsibility,” a Justice Department attorney told the court, echoing an earlier letter sent by the agency to its state-level counterpart in Iowa.

In the May letter, U.S. Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton suggested that Iowa Senate File 2340 is “preempted by federal law and violates the United States Constitution” by authorizing immigrant-processing measures “contrary” to those explicitly authorized by the federal government.

The law, Boynton said, “effectively creates a separate state immigration scheme [by] imposing state criminal penalties for violating the federal prohibition on unlawful re-entry into the United States.”

Nevertheless, Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird continued to defend the law. In a statement released after the Monday hearing concluded, Bird said that states like Iowa have been forced by federal inefficiency to take unprecedented measures.

“Since Biden refuses to enforce our immigration laws, Iowa is doing the job for him. Biden’s open borders have not only caused record illegal immigration, but they have opened the door for drug cartels, human traffickers, and suspected terrorists to enter our country,” she said. “Today, we made the case in court defending Iowa’s law that prohibits illegal re-entry and keeps our communities safe.”

The court has indicated that it will move quickly to issue a decision approving or denying requests for an injunction against the law, but said it expects any ruling it makes to be appealed.


Civil rights groups, state of Iowa make case for, against new ‘illegal reentry’ lawv

Federal judge hears arguments in lawsuit over Iowa’s immigration law

Justice Department warns it plans to sue Iowa over new state immigration law

Iowa defends immigration law that allows local officials to arrest people told to leave US

U.S. Justice Department threatens court challenge to Iowa immigration lawv

Join the conversation!