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Immigrants and advocates protest Iowa's law making 'illegal reentry' a state crime

Migrant rights advocates held events in several Iowa cities Wednesday evening to protest a new law that will allow state and local officials to arrest and deport some immigrants.
Lucius Pham
IPR News
Migrant rights advocates held events in several Iowa cities Wednesday evening to protest a new law that will allow state and local officials to arrest and deport some immigrants.

Immigrants and advocates held rallies and marches in four Iowa cities Wednesday evening to protest a law set to take effect July 1 that will allow state and local officials to arrest and deport immigrants who illegally re-entered the country.

Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice held an event at a park close to the Iowa Capitol, where speakers promised to fight against the law and work to protect immigrant rights.

“Politicians want to instill fear in our community,” said Enya Cid, a student at Grandview University. “They want to use immigrants as scapegoats for the problems that Iowa faces. But we are not the problem. We are the solution.”

She said people started coming to Iowa from Mexico in 1910, and since then, immigrants from all over the world have come to the state and are revitalizing aging rural towns.

“My contributions to this state as a student, as a worker and as a person are worth the same as if I was born on this side of the border instead of Mexico,” Cid said.

The law that sparked the protests, similar to one passed in Texas, is a major departure from current practice and court precedent, which only allows the federal government to enforce immigration laws. Texas’ law has been held up in court as federal judges consider its constitutionality, and Iowa’s law is likely to face a court challenge.

It creates a new state crime of “illegal reentry.” Immigrants could face up to two years in prison if they enter, attempt to enter, or are found in Iowa and have previously been denied admission to or been deported from the U.S. state courts would also be able to order people to leave the country if the law takes effect.

Republican lawmakers and Gov. Kim Reynolds have said this will give the state tools to arrest and charge people who cross the border illegally.

Lucas Asbury, an attorney with Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, said that is not true.

“This law does not focus either on those who have crossed the border without inspection, or those who do not have documents,” he said. “It targets equally those who are here with legal status as it does those who are here without legal status.”

Asbury said a person seeking asylum could be arrested just for being in Iowa. He said the law is unconstitutional, and he urged immigrants in Iowa to not give in to the fear created by the law.

Rachael Duang with Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice said immigrants have rights, and they shouldn’t let anyone take their power away.

“I’m an American. I’m a very proud American,” Duang said. “I’m not against our politicians, our government. But I just want to tell our government, we are the workers of this country. And they should respect us. And we are human.”

The group marched to the Iowa Capitol in the rain, where another protest against the law had ended shortly before. There were also protests in Iowa City, Davenport and Waterloo.

Gov. Reynolds, who signed the bill into law last month, was asked about the law and the protests Wednesday afternoon. She said the U.S. welcomes legal immigration, and the people targeted by the law illegally entered the country.

“And if they’ve been deported, and they’re back in, then we’ve made it a state crime,” Reynolds said. “It is the humanitarian thing to do. When you look at what’s taking place at the southern border, it is a national security issue, as well as a humanitarian crisis.”

Reynolds said some people crossing the border are being sexually assaulted, trafficked, or dying trying to cross the river.

Reynolds said Congress and the Biden administration should pass a bill to help control the U.S.-Mexico border. Earlier this year, when a bipartisan immigration deal was being considered at the federal level, Reynolds said a new law is not needed.

Many questions remain about how the Iowa law would be enforced by courts and law enforcement officials who do not have experience with enforcing immigration laws. Republican lawmakers have also not directly said whether the state would have to pay to transport and escort people out of the country.

Asked about those concerns from law enforcement, Reynolds said state officials will work to provide more information.

“At the very least it begins to give them a tool to address it. And it just sends a message, you know, this is not where you want to come if you’ve been deported or you were denied and you’re in this country illegal.”

At the very end of the legislative session, state lawmakers approved $2 million and 12 employees for a new Department of Public Safety task force to address illegal immigration.

Copyright 2024 Iowa Public Radio News

Katarina Sostaric is an Iowa City based reporter covering Eastern Iowa for Iowa Public Radio.