Iowa ACLU Responds to Travel Ban and Legislation Limiting Certain Protest

Feb 2, 2017

In the wake of President Trump’s executive order and the ensuing surge in donations to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Ben Kieffer talks to Rita Bettis, Legal Director for the ACLU of Iowa, about her organization’s reaction to the week’s events.

On President Trump’s travel ban

From Bettis’s perspective, the executive order is essentially President Trump making good on his campaign promise to ban Muslims from entering the United States. Because the order targets Muslim-majority countries while making exceptions for minority religions such as Christianity, Bettis sees this move as a clear case of ethnic and religious discrimination.

“It goes against everything our country was founded on, right from the beginning," she says. "Our founding fathers intended that this would be a country where people would be free from religious persecution and discrimination on the basis of religion.”

She says that Iowans most affected by the order include students who were stuck abroad and citizens whose family members’ visas are now in jeopardy. Bettis also points out that another one of President Trump’s recent executive orders, the one allowing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to send detainer requests to local law enforcement departments, could have a big effect on Iowa police officers.

“ICE may make the request, but it’s the local law enforcement officers who then hold someone in violation of the fourth amendment. [The local officers] end up liable when that person’s constitutional rights are violated and they sue.”

On protest legislation in Iowa

Bettis considers what she deems the "anti-protest" bill in the Iowa Senate as part of a worrisome trend across the country. While recognizing there are safety concerns when protests block roadways, she says it’s important to remember that these concerns are already addressed in Iowa law, and that attempts to punish peaceful assembly could have a chilling effect far beyond the reach of the individuals in the protest.

“In our system of government where power flows from the people to the government and not the other way around, protected expression, demonstration, [and] first amendment protest activity is a source of strength in our democracy.”

The ACLU pledges to protect first-amendment rights that are under siege as lawmakers behind this bill have admitted to the press that it targets the right to assemble.

“When you’re targeting speech because you disagree with the content of that speech and the motivation of the protestors, you’re running right up against those protected first amendment values," she says.

Other interviews in this edition of River to River include:

  • Journalist and historian Jeff Biggers reviews Iowa’s generous treatment of immigrants and refugees in the past.
  • Kay Henderson, news director of Radio Iowa, gives an update on bills being considered at the Iowa Statehouse.
  • Tom Ahart, superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools discusses his response the president's travel ban.