Gov. Kim Reynolds signs law making illegal immigration a state crime in Iowa

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Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds listens at a press conference about border policies in Eagle Pass, Texas on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP) / La gobernadora de Iowa, Kim Reynolds, escucha en una rueda de prensa sobre políticas fronterizas en Eagle Pass, Texas, el domingo 4 de febrero de 2024. (Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman vía AP)
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By Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capital Dispatch

Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a series of bills Wednesday, including a measure making illegal immigration a state crime in Iowa based on a Texas law currently being challenged in court.

Senate File 2340 gives Iowa law enforcement officers the ability to charge people with an aggravated misdemeanor if they have been denied admission, deported or otherwise removed from the U.S., or if they currently have an order to leave the country.

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State judges courts will be allowed to order the deportation of undocumented immigrants, and state agencies and law enforcement will have the ability to transport migrants to U.S. ports of entry to ensure they exit the country, with felony charges possible for not complying with an order to leave.

Reynolds said in a statement Wednesday the law is needed due to President Joe Biden’s lack of action on illegal immigration.

“The Biden Administration has failed to enforce our nation’s immigration laws, putting the protection and safety of Iowans at risk,” Reynolds said. “Those who come into our country illegally have broken the law, yet Biden refuses to deport them. This bill gives Iowa law enforcement the power to do what he is unwilling to do: enforce immigration laws already on the books.”

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U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on March 3 that the agency has returned or removed more individuals since May 2023 than in any year since 2015. Deportations nearly doubled in fiscal 2023 from the year before, the Washington Post reported.

The law is set to go into effect July 1. However, the measure could be challenged in court: The legislation was modeled after a Texas law passed in 2023 allowing state-level enforcement of federal immigration laws, which is currently being challenged by the U.S. Justice Department and civil rights organizations in a federal court of appeals on constitutional grounds.

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In late March, Reynolds announced that she plans to deploy 115 Iowa National Guard troops and 10 Iowa Department of Public Safety officers to Texas to support the state’s law enforcement efforts along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, an immigrant rights’ organization, called the law a “ridiculous political stunt” in a news release Wednesday, saying Reynolds is hurting both Iowa immigrants by signing the bill.

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“Welcoming immigrants and refugees is the definition of what ‘Iowa Nice’ should be,” the organization said in a statement. “… Iowa politicians moved this ridiculous stunt forward in an election year in order to perpetuate partisan campaign rhetoric, drive fear in immigrant communities and mobilize voters using fear and anti-immigrant sentiment. Immigrants’ rights organizations are ready to fight back and work to block this unconstitutional law from going into effect. We know that we all belong here, Iowa is home, and we will stand together as workers, families and allies to defend each other.”

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird released a statement praising Reynolds for signing the law, claiming that “not only has Biden left our border wide open, he has secretly flown illegal immigrants into our state in the dead of night.”

“There is no doubt that in Biden’s America, every state is a border state,” Bird said in a statement. “Iowa is sending a clear message that illegal reentry will not be tolerated. I applaud Governor Reynolds for taking action to protect Iowans while Biden refuses.”

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