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Federal Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Against Iowa Immigration Law

— June 19, 2024

“As a matter of politics, this new legislation might be defensible,” U.S. District Judge Stephen Locher wrote in his ruling. “As a matter of constitutional law, it is not.”

An Iowa-based federal judge has agreed to issue an injunction against the state’s controversial immigration enforcement law.

According to Reuters, the decision was issued by U.S. District Judge Stephen Locher on Monday. In his ruling, Locher said that the state’s proposed immigration rules would likely interfere with the federal government’s enforcement of nationwide laws and policies.

“As a matter of politics, this new legislation might be defensible,” Locher wrote in his ruling. “As a matter of constitutional law, it is not.”

“Under binding Supreme Court precedent, Senate File 2340 is preempted in its entirety by federal law and thus it is invalid under the Supremacy Clause,” he said.

Iowa’s sweeping new law, if put into effect, would permit local law enforcement officials to stop, arrest, and detain anyone found to be in the United States illegally. And, once detained, law enforcement would have a responsibility to forward undocumented immigrants to state-level courts—which could order their deportation to or beyond Iowa’s borders.

Locher said that these provisions broadly contradict legal principles detailed by a 2012 Supreme Court ruling. In that particular case, the justices found that an Arizona law—which criminalized certain immigration-related offenses at the state level—interfered with, and were preempted by, federal policy.

The Iowa law, Locher said, thereby creates “an untenable dichotomy between federal and state law in an area where the Supreme Court has recognized that the United States must speak with a single, harmonious voice.”

Image via U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. U.S. government work/public domain.

Attorneys for American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the case on behalf of several immigrants who were deported from the United States but eventually permitted to return, argued that Iowa’s law is vague—and could lead to the arrest and attempted deportation of migrants with valid visas or residency.

Although the state argued that the ACLU’s clients did not have standing to sue—since the law’s provisions predominately concern undocumented immigrants—the organization noted that the language of Senate File 2340 permits the deportation of anyone who has previous arrests for certain immigration-related offenses, irrespective of any subsequent changes to their status.

Locher’s ruling largely affirmed the ACLU’s position, saying that there is nothing in the law that would prevent prosecutors from charging formerly undocumented migrants who later obtained green cards. In fact, Locher observed that, while Senate File 2340 is apparently patterned after a federal re-entry policy, it specifically omits language barring its application to current legal residents.

“There is no exception […] for an alien whose removal order has been waived or who otherwise has been granted permission to be in the country after previously having been ‘denied admission’ or ‘excluded, deported, or removed,'” Locher wrote. “To the contrary, the statute’s repeated and insistent use of the past tense […] indicates that a person will be criminally liable based on what happened in the past, not based on current legal status.”

In a statement, Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird said that her office plans to appeal the ruling.

“I am disappointed in today’s court decision that blocks Iowa from stopping illegal reentry and keeping our communities said,” she said. “Since Biden refuses to secure our borders, he has let states with no choice but to do the job for him.”

But the groups behind the lawsuit—including the American Civil Liberties Union and its Iowa chapter—celebrated the preliminary decision, calling Iowa’s immigration laws “among the worst anti-immigrant legislation” in the state’s history.

“Local law enforcement in Iowa have spoken up to say that they don’t want this duty, given the significant ways that such enforcement would erode the ability of local law enforcement to protect public safety,” said Rita Bettis Austin, the legal director of the ACLU of Iowa.


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