Lawsuits seek to block Iowa immigration law from taking effect

DES MOINES — Civil rights groups have filed a lawsuit seeking to block enforcement of an Iowa law that would let state officials arrest and deport immigrants who are in Iowa after previously being deported or denied entry to the country. The law is scheduled to take effect July 1.

“It is truly impossible to overstate how terrible this law is, how poorly written it is, how bizarre it is and how extreme it is,” American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa legal counsel Rita Bettis Austen said Thursday afternoon during an online news conference.

Iowa police do not have the ability to accurately determine a person’s current immigration status, according to Bettis Austen. “We’ve heard that from law enforcement across the state directly,” she said.

Kate Melloy Goettel, legal director with the American Immigration Council, said the law is unconstitutional. “The crux of this lawsuit is that it challenges the state’s ability to create its own immigration system,” she said, “flouting more than a century of law that leaves that authority to the federal government.”

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is a 68-year-old woman who has a green card and is living in Iowa today. “She was deported to Mexico in 2005 and waited 17 years to be able to come back to the United States lawfully where her family resides,” Melloy Goettel said. “She has five kids and many grandchildren, most of whom live here in Iowa and she is under great stress and anxiety not knowing if she’s going to be prosecuted under this law.”

Melloy Goettel said the law has no exceptions for people who have legal authority to be in the U.S. now, but had been removed in the past. Erica Johnson, executive director of the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, said the law is creating fear among immigrant communities.

“I think we can all agree that our immigration system needs improvement, but this law is no solution,” she said. “…It doesn’t matter now if they have authorization to be here, they can still be put in prison or deported at the border, often thousands of miles away from their home country.”

Governor Kim Reynolds, in a written statement, said President Biden “refuses to enforce immigration laws” and she has a responsibility to protect the citizens of Iowa. Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird said states ”have to take matters into their own hands” and she stands ready to defend the law in court.

Late Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it is suing the state to try to block the law from taking effect.

“Iowa cannot disregard the U.S. Constitution and settled Supreme Court precedent,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division said in a written statement. “We have brought this action to ensure that Iowa adheres to the framework adopted by Congress and the Constitution for regulation of immigration.”

A similar Texas law is on hold due to a federal lawsuit.