Kim Reynolds dismisses need for new immigration law, says she’ll send more soldiers to border

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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 Stephen Gruber-Miller, Des Moines Register

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds dismissed the need for a new federal immigration law Monday, saying President Joe Biden should use his existing authority to combat illegal immigration.

“Congress already has on the books that you have to deny illegal entry into the country. He has not,” Reynolds contended at a news conference at the Iowa State Capitol. “He has the authority right now, today, to follow the law that Congress put in place. We don’t need a new law. He needs to follow the existing law.”

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Reynolds’ remarks comes one day after she made a trip to Eagle Pass, Texas, to join Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and a dozen other Republican governors at a news conference on Texas’ efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.

Reynolds said Monday that she told Abbott “Iowa stands ready” to send more Iowa National Guard soldiers and Iowa State Patrol officers to Texas to support the state’s efforts to reduce illegal immigration, known as “Operation Lone Star.”

Senate immigration deal faces long odds in Congress

Biden has called on Congress to give him more authority to deal with illegal immigration, and lawmakers have been working on crafting a bipartisan immigration deal, although it faces long odds of passage.

On Sunday, a group of U.S. senators released a bipartisan bill that would give the president new powers to halt the processing of new asylum applications if the number of expulsions and apprehensions of migrants reaches a weeklong average of 4,000.

The $118 billion bill would also make it harder for migrants to apply for asylum and increase funding for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, as well as provide funding for Ukraine, Israel and other U.S. allies.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds speaks about a trip to the U.S. Mexico border during a press conference at the Iowa State Capitol, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024.

Almost immediately, Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson said the deal would be “dead on arrival” in the House if it passes the Senate.

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Former President Donald Trump has criticized the deal and urged congressional leaders to reject it as he makes immigration a centerpiece of his 2024 presidential campaign.

Reynolds on Monday said she’s skeptical the bill will pass.

“No disrespect to the people that serve out in Washington, D.C., I’m grateful for them, but listen, in this environment, I don’t have a lot of confidence in really too much really getting done,” she said. “And then you’re running into an election year so it’s going to be really hard to get anything done right now, to be honest.”

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds speaks about a trip to the U.S. Mexico border during a press conference at the Iowa State Capitol, Monday, Feb. 5, 2024.
Does President Joe Biden need a new law to act on immigration?

Reynolds said Biden has “rolled out the welcome mat” for migrants, accusing him of “abandoning his constitutional duty to protect our country and defend its citizens.”

“I think he should do his job,” Reynolds said of Biden. “And if he won’t, the states are going to step up and do it. Half the country, 25 governors have said they’re going to stand with Gov Abbott and do what this president refuses to do.”

Biden told reporters Jan. 30 that he lacks the power to act on the border.

“I’ve done all I can do,” he said. “Just give me the power. I’ve asked from the very day I got into office. Give me the Border Patrol. Give me the people — give me the people, the judges. Give me the people who can stop this and make it work right.”

Federal law allows migrants to apply for asylum, even if they are in the country illegally. Trump tried repeatedly to tighten the country’s immigration rules, but his efforts were frequently blocked by the courts for conflicting with existing asylum laws.

U.S. Sen. James Lankford, an Oklahoma Republican who negotiated the Senate bill, said on “Face the Nation” that Trump had called for new immigration laws when he was president.

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“Even while (Trump) was president, he was specifically asking Congress to change the standard on asylum to be able to tighten up, to be able to give them additional funds for deportation. All of those things are in this bill,” Lankford said.

Reynolds called on Biden to reinstate the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, and end the “catch and release” policy, referring to the longstanding practice of releasing immigrants while they await a federal court date.

“The average wait time right now is two years,” Reynolds said. “So I don’t know, anybody think they’re going to show up in two years? I think the chances may be slim.”

The Senate deal, which Biden has pushed for, would end “catch and release,” instead detaining migrants while their claims are evaluated. It would also create a new, voluntary program for migrants to fly back to their home countries on commercial airlines paid for by the U.S. government.

Iowa will again send National Guard soldiers, State Patrol officers to US-Mexico border

Reynolds said Iowa will again send National Guard soldiers and Iowa State Patrol troopers to the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas as part of the state’s “Operation Lone Star” mission to reduce illegal immigration.

Reynolds said Iowa has seen an increase in overdose deaths in recent years that stem from drug cartel activity across the border.

“If the federal government won’t do the job of protecting America, the states will step in,” she said.

Last year, Reynolds sent 109 National Guard soldiers to Texas from Aug. 2 to Sept. 1. Thirty-one state patrol officers and agents followed, deploying from Aug. 31 to Oct. 2.

The total cost for last year’s mission was about $2.1 million, Reynolds said, paid for with federal American Rescue Plan funding that was intended to help America recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2021, Reynolds deployed about 28 Iowa State Patrol troopers to the border for 14 days in the Del Rio area in southwest Texas. at a cost of about $300,000 in state taxpayer dollars.

Reynolds said Iowa officials are in contact with their Texas counterparts about how many people the state will send and when they will go. She said Texas is coordinating with multiple states and will let Iowa know what they need.

“While the commitment has been made, the dates and duties of the next mission have not yet been determined,” Reynolds said. “So we’ll be coordinating with Texas to understand what that timeline looks like and what their expectations are of the people that we send down.”

Reynolds said she also plans to work with Iowa Department of Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens to make sure the Iowa State Patrol still has enough troopers to fulfill its duties in Iowa. She pointed out that Iowa didn’t send State Patrol personnel during the Iowa State Fair or RAGBRAI last year.

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“We want to make sure we’re taking care of Iowans, but at the same time he does feel that we have the capacity if we time it right to be of help to the Texas State Patrol,” she said.

Reynolds also defended Abbott’s controversial tactics to block migrants from entering the United States, which include installing floating water buoys with razor wire on the Rio Grande River.

“To quote Gov. Abbott, I don’t know of anybody that’s drowned crossing a bridge,” she said. “So they have a legal port of entry that’s there for a reason and they need to execute the laws that are already on the books.”

USA Today contributed to this report.

Stephen Gruber-Miller covers the Iowa Statehouse and politics for the Register. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or by phone at 515-284-8169. Follow him on Twitter at @sgrubermiller.

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