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‘Iowa Cannot Disregard the U.S. Constitution’: Justice Department, Civil Rights Groups Sue Over State’s Extreme Anti-Immigrant Law

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Iowa’s copycat anti-immigrant law was hit with two major lawsuits late last week. On Thursday, civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against S.F. 2340, which was signed by GOP Governor Kim Reynolds on April 10 and is being described by the groups as unconstitutional and “one of the worst, most far-reaching immigration laws” ever passed in the state. Hours later, the Justice Department filed a second lawsuit challenging S.F. 2340’s flagrant disregard for federal law. “Iowa cannot disregard the U.S. Constitution and settled Supreme Court precedent,” said a top DOJ official.

The first lawsuit, filed by the American Immigration Council, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, and the national ACLU on behalf of the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, shines a light on the devastating impacts of S.F. 2340, which would fuel racial profiling and separate families by empowering local police to act as federal immigration agents. 

Among those at risk is 18-year-old “Anna,” who fled Honduras after her family was violently attacked. “She was brought to the U.S. with her mother when she was 14 and then deported,” the civil rights groups said. “Shortly after, still fearing for her life, she reentered the U.S. again, this time unaccompanied. She applied for and received asylum and is now here lawfully, living with an Iowa family and attending high school.” However, because S.F. 2340 makes no exceptions for people who later gained lawful status or are in the process of gaining lawful status, Anna could be at risk of being deported to Mexico, where she knows no one.

“SF 2340 isn’t just about so-called criminal reentry,” said American Immigration Council legal director Kate Melloy Goettel. “It’s a badly written law with far-reaching implications. It will create absolute chaos and human suffering in our legal system and harm Iowa communities.” 

It’s not just Anna, either. “Let’s not forget that immigration is critically important to Iowa,” America’s Voice Senior Research Director Zachary Mueller noted in January. “In Iowa, the agricultural, health care, hospitality, and meatpacking industries are particularly reliant on immigrant labor.” Across Iowa, immigrants who have entered the meatpacking workforce have revitalized entire towns, including Storm Lake, the birthplace of former GOP Rep. Steve King. While King was in Congress accusing Dreamers of being drug traffickers and comparing the undocumented population at large to dogs, these same immigrant workers were filling meatpacking shortages, opening small businesses, and breathing fresh life into his hometown.

Storm Lake’s diversity today has been its strength, Storm Lake Times Pilot Editor Art Cullen noted last month. S.F. 2340 strikes at the heart of Iowa’s immigrant workforce. “Without them, we’re screwed.”

“The town will empty out,” Cullen continued in the Storm Lake Times Pilot. “Why stay in Storm Lake when you can go to Illinois, Wisconsin, or anywhere but this cold, hostile place that puts a target on your forehead? The authorities will know who the Dreamers are. They come after their parents first. That will be fairly easy. The rest will get the signal: You are not welcome in Iowa. We do not need your help. Hasta la vista, baby.”

The federal lawsuit from the Justice Department “comes a week after a top DOJ official warned state leaders to stop enforcing the law or be brought to court,” the Des Moines Register reported

S.F. 2340 “creates a purported state immigration crime for unlawful reentry, requires state judges to order the removal of certain noncitizens from the country, and mandates that state officials carry out those removal orders,” the lawsuit states. “But Iowa cannot create its own immigration system. Its efforts, through SF 2340, intrude on the federal government’s exclusive authority to regulate the entry and removal of noncitizens, frustrate the United States’ immigration operations, and interfere with U.S. foreign relations. SF 2340 is invalid and must be enjoined.”

Iowa’s bill is among recent anti-immigrant proposals inspired by Texas’s cruel and extreme “show me your papers” law. In February, a sound-mind judge temporarily halted the law, including debunking the white nationalist “invasion” legal theory claimed by Gov. Greg Abbott and other Texas Republicans. “I haven’t seen, and the state of Texas can’t point me to any type of military invasion in Texas,” Judge David Ezra said in his ruling. “I don’t see evidence that Texas is at war.” 

Following a rapid succession of rulings related to the case, S.B. 4 is currently at the conservative 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. During a hearing last month, even Texas’ Solicitor General  – arguing in favor of S.B. 4 – admitted the law went “too far.” Back in Iowa, the courts should do the right thing and block this inhumane and illogical law. And even though they’d never admit it, Iowa lawmakers who helped pass this law to boost their anti-immigrant cred will be secretly thrilled if that happens. They know these workers help keep Iowa running.

S.F. 2340 “takes people — including mere children — who have been living here peacefully and contributing to their communities, sometimes for decades, and sets them up for deportation,” said Erica Johnson, founding executive director of Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice. “It doesn’t matter if they now 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.”

“We need laws that create workable, orderly, humane immigration systems,” Johnson continued. “SF 2340 does just the opposite.” Besides the families directly impacted by this new xenophobic law, a lot of Iowa businesses, including agriculture, will face harsh consequences. Instead of speaking out, probably safe to assume that a lot of them have their fingers crossed behind their backs that these lawsuits succeed.

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