Federal judge blocks Iowa immigration law, Attorney General Brenna Bird vows to appeal injunction

by Robin Opsahl, Iowa Capital Dispatch
June 17, 2024

A federal judge on Monday issued a preliminary injunction for Iowa’s law on illegal immigration, blocking it before enforcement was set to begin July 1.

The U.S. Department of Justice and a coalition of civil rights groups argued in court a week ago that Senate File 2340 should not be allowed to take effect.

Signed earlier this year, the measure gives law enforcement officials the power to charge undocumented immigrants with an aggravated misdemeanor for being found in Iowa after having been previously deported, denied admission or removed from the U.S., or if they have an order to leave the country.

The law was challenged by the DOJ, with officials arguing that the new state law infringes on the federal government’s authority over immigration law and enforcement, and that state enforcement of the measure would create conflicts with federal immigration laws. But Iowa deputy solicitor general Patrick Valencia argued the state law does not conflict with federal immigration statutes or enforcement, as it does not contain new rules on immigration. He said the state measure only gives Iowa law enforcement the ability to enforce existing federal law.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Stephen Locher sided with the DOJ, citing the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution that states the constitution, federal laws and treaties take precedent over conflicting state laws. The Iowa immigration measure is “preempted in its entirety by federal law” and invalid, he wrote.

“As a matter of politics, the new legislation might be defensible,” Locher wrote. “As a matter of constitutional law, it is not.”

Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird said in a statement that her office will appeal the decision. Bird said she was “disappointed” in the court’s decision and said it was a needed measure for “keeping our communities safe” due to President Joe Biden’s border policies.

“Iowa never would have had to pass this law to begin with if it weren’t for Biden’s open borders,” Bird said. “Rather than suing Iowa for enforcing immigration laws, he should do his duty to secure the border.”

Gov. Kim Reynolds said she supported Bird’s choice to appeal the decision, repeating the state attorney general’s criticisms of the Biden administration.

“With this injunction states are left defenseless to the ongoing crisis at our southern border,” Reynolds said in a statement. “Plainly, the Biden administration is failing to do their job and enforce federal immigration laws allowing millions to enter and re-enter without any consequence or delay. I signed this bill into law to protect Iowans and our communities from the results of this border crisis: rising crime, overdose deaths, and human trafficking.”

Emma Winger, deputy legal director at the American Immigration Council, who represented the coalition of civil rights groups and Iowa plaintiffs also challenging the law, said state immigration enforcement laws “create absolute chaos and human suffering and have no place in our legal system.” The Iowa law was modeled after a 2023 Texas measure also under a preliminary injunction, and the DOJ is challenging a similar law in Oklahoma.

“The court was right to block this cruel and blatantly unconstitutional law,” Winger said in a statement. “If it had been allowed to go into effect, it would have meant that even people currently living in the U.S. lawfully could have been arrested, imprisoned, and forced to leave the country.”

Leaders with immigrant advocacy groups like Guillermo Trevino Jr, a priest and advocate with Escucha Mi Voz Iowa, celebrated the injunction

“The judge’s ruling gives us more time to keep fighting,” Trevino, Jr said in a statement. “I pray Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird has a change of heart and does not appeal the judge’s decision.”

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and X.

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