Illegal immigration would be a state crime in Iowa under Senate bill

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Immigrants line up at a remote U.S. Border Patrol processing center after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border on Dec. 7, 2023 in Lukeville, Arizona. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
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By Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capitol Dispatch    

Iowa law enforcement would have the authority to arrest undocumented immigrants for entry into the state if they are in the United States illegally under legislation passed Tuesday by the Iowa Senate.

Senate File 2340, approved with a 34-16 vote, would make entry or being found in Iowa an aggravated misdemeanor if the person was denied admission, deported or removed from the U.S., or if they have such an order outstanding. People removed from the country related to certain convictions could face felony charges under the bill.

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If arrested, state courts would be able to order the deportation of undocumented immigrants arrested in Iowa, and law enforcement and state agencies would be able to transport migrants to a port of entry to ensure they leave the country as ordered, or face felony charges.

Sen. Janice Weiner, D-Iowa City, asked the bill’s floor manager Sen. Jeff Reichman, R-Montrose, how Iowa law enforcement would transport a person to a port of entry — a procedure Reichman said would be determined through the rulemaking process.

Weiner criticized the provision for being either unrealistic or extremely expensive. Iowa has one port of entry, Des Moines International Airport, which offers few international flights. Ensuring a person gets on a plane would likely not ensure they leave the country, Weiner said. The other option, of having law enforcement escort undocumented immigrants directly to the U.S.-Mexico border, would require an “standing unlimited appropriation,” she said.

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“This bill is a political stunt and a false promise that doesn’t contain the needed resources,” Weiner said. “It’s a gotcha bill. But I have great news: There’s a solution out there, colleagues, a tough bipartisan compromise bill was hammered out in the U.S. Senate.”

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Weiner called for lawmakers to contact Iowa’s federal congressional delegation to support legislation on immigration supported by Democrats and some Republicans like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that GOP senators rejected in February.

Weiner also introduced a measure to allow abatement of prosecution in such cases if a person is under or eligible for a protective visa under the federal Violence Against Women Act. Under the federal law, undocumented immigrants who have been trafficked can be issued protective visas when working with law enforcement to help capture traffickers and abusers.

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Weiner said the bill in its current form would remove protection for these groups, and would remove incentives for victims to work with law enforcement to capture the “worst actors” in trafficking situations.

Though Reichman pointed to provisions in the bill that prohibit law enforcement from arresting people in schools, churches, and facilities providing health care or forensic medical examination for sexual assault, Weiner argued that these provisions would not protect victims of trafficking. The amendment failed 17-33.

In his closing comments, Reichman said President Joe Biden took an oath to protect and defend the U.S. Constitution, laws and flag, just like he did as a Marine Corps officer and state senator.

“What is unconstitutional is the way that our federal government is (abdicating) their duties,” Reichman said. “They refuse to enforce the laws. Our president took that same oath and, along with U.S. Customs and Borders, he has failed.”

The legislation moves to the House for further consideration.

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