Opponents of a bill backers say would outlaw so-called sanctuary cities in Iowa filled a committee room to overflowing at the statehouse today.
The bill would deny state funds to any community that approves policies to prevent local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Under the bill, communities would be required to detain a jailed person for possible deportation at the request of federal officials.
Backers say the bill concerns itself only with immigrants charged with criminal offenses. But Iowa law enforcement agencies oppose the bill. They argue it will make undocumented immigrants retreat into the shadows instead of reporting crimes.
“Just the peripheral conversations, the rumors, and so on spread a wave of fear in our communities that greatly impact our ability to create, maintain, and grow relationships,” said Storm Lake Chief of Police Mark Prosser.
“I’m not aware of any communities in Iowa that do not cooperate with the federal government or law enforcement partners,” said Marshalltown Chief of Police Michael Tupper. “What I’m concerned about is it actually works to diminish public safety in our communities.”
Rep. Steven Holt (R-Denison) says currently no Iowa communities have declared themselves sanctuary cities, and his bill would maintain the status quo.
“The majority of immigrants who came here illegally just came here for a better life,” Holt said. “But there are also immigrants who came here illegally with violent criminal pasts and by their very definition a sanctuary city provides a safe haven for these individuals.”
Holt cited instances of violent crimes elsewhere in the country perpetrated by undocumented immigrants who should have been deported.
Holt said Iowa City has “moved in the direction” of being a sanctuary city with its ordinance preventing the use of local resources to enforce immigration laws.
"You're right, we have poor immigration policy, but at the same time we're not going to make this situation any better by local municipalities continuing to thumb their nose at the federal government," said Rep. Greg Heartsill (R-Columbia).
But Iowa City Police Chief Jody Matherly told legislators that doesn't mean federal immigration officials are prevented from picking up suspects who are under arrest in Iowa City.
"We just had it happen last week," Matherly says. "A person was lodged in the jail because of us and the next day ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) picked them up.”
Immigrant advocates and legal experts also spoke out against the bill.
"Relationships between local police and immigrants who are already terrified and terrorized are going to be broken," said high school student Alexa Rodriguez.
“We have significant concerns about constitutionality,” said Jim Carney with the Iowa Bar Association.
The bill has already passed the Senate. It cleared a GOP-dominated House panel and will be considered next by the House Public Safety Committee.
Rep. Wes Breckinridge (D-Newton) declined to sign the subcommittee report.
“Are we a solution looking for a problem?” asked Breckinridge, an officer in the Newton Police Department.