Bill makes smuggling undocumented immigrants a crime in Iowa

DES MOINES — Human smuggling of undocumented immigrants — to conceal them from law enforcement — would become a crime in Iowa if a bill that’s passed the Iowa House becomes law.

Republican Representative Steven Holt of Denison said the human smuggling that’s happening is horrific and inexcusable.

“Why is this legislation necessary? Never in my lifetime and likely never in the history of this country have we seen the chaos on our southern border that we are seeing today,” Holt said. “…A very real and profoundly serious crisis on our southern border demands that we stand up as a state and protect our citizens and our sovereignty and perhaps discourage human trafficking, labor trafficking, sex trafficking and all of the garbage that is happening at our outhern border and transferring into our state.”

The crime of human smuggling would apply to someone who knowingly and for their own benefit transport and try to conceal illegal aliens from Iowa law enforcement agencies, “or encourages or induces a person to enter or remain in the United States by concealing, harboring or shielding that person from detection,” Holt said.

The bill passed with the support of House Republicans. Representative Mark Thompson, a Republican from Clarion, said human smuggling “is a disgusting business” and the bill is needed because some of the demand comes from Iowa businesses.

“They employ these people if you want to use the word ’employ’ because they’re not given any decent wage and then when they complain about it or something goes wrong, they’re thrown to the street, so their immigration status is used against them. It’s blackmail. We’re not going anyone coming across our border any fair shake, any favors by letting them come across and just come up to Iowa,” Thompson said. “…The federal government is not enforcing its own laws. We have to have our law protect these people.”

Democrats opposed the bill. Representative Lindsay James, a Democrat from Dubuque, said immigration is a federal issue. “I think we can all agree that the immigration system needs some work,” James said. “There has been bipartisan legislation on the federal level that imploded because of the politics of Donald Trump and the Republican do nothing congress.”

The bill now goes to the Iowa Senate, which already has passed a requirement that Iowa businesses check a federal database to see if their employees are U-S citizens or legal residents of the country. Employers caught hiring undocumented immigrants twice in two years would lose their license to do business in Iowa if that bill becomes law.