Media Declares “No Sanctuary Cities In Iowa!” Don’t Fall For It.

Whenever someone makes the blanket statement that there are no sanctuary cities in a particular state, be very skeptical.  It often means they’re trying to define away the term and narrow it into meaninglessness.  In other words, just because a community doesn’t label itself as a sanctuary community doesn’t mean that it doesn’t embrace sanctuary policies.  Clearly, actions speak louder than words.

The Hawkeye State doesn’t have any cities or counties that have proudly and defiantly raised the sanctuary flag like San Francisco.  But there are jurisdictions in Iowa that nevertheless have dangerous sanctuary policies. Although the number of sanctuary policies appears to have dropped somewhat since the Trump Administration took office, Iowa still has more than a dozen counties that refuse to honor immigration detainers.  And it has at least four cities that go even further than that and have adopted police department policies or local resolutions saying they won’t take action or expend any resources on enforcing immigration law or detecting violations of it. They include: Ames, Des Moines, Iowa City, and Windsor Heights.

They may call themselves “welcoming” rather than “sanctuary,” or they may not call themselves anything at all, but they have sanctuary policies – policies that interfere with the free sharing of information or cooperation with federal immigration officials – so they are sanctuary cities and sanctuary counties.  To say otherwise is sophistry: it’s playing word games.  And the media have been all too happy to play along by saying there are no sanctuaries in the state.

The state legislature doesn’t seem to have fallen for the games, fortunately.  They finally recognized that the fiscal and human costs were simply too high not to act.

According to FAIR’s 2017 cost study, “The Fiscal Burden of Illegal Immigration on United States Taxpayers,” Iowa spends a little over $203 million a year on illegal aliens.  That comes out of total state spending that in Fiscal Year 2016 wasn’t even $7.3 billion, so it’s close to 3 percent of the budget: hardly nothing.  But the numbers don’t tell the human story of Iowans victimized by criminal aliens who should never have been in the country in the first place: Iowans who’ve been sexually abused as children, killed by drunk drivers, or had their identities stolen, just to mention a few.  Even one instance is too many and each one might have been prevented.

Last year, a bill was introduced in the Iowa Senate, SF 481, to ban the dangerous sanctuary policies that keep some of these criminal aliens from being deported.  The bill prohibits local governments from, among other things, not honoring detainers or adopting policies that restrict their officers from investigating people’s immigration status: in other words, sanctuary policies.  It allows any state resident to file a complaint, for the attorney general or a county attorney to sue based on a complaint, and for any city or county ultimately found in violation to have state funds withheld until it complies.  Pretty straightforward and, since there aren’t any “real” sanctuary cities or counties in Iowa, you’d think there’d have been no opposition to it.

Instead, the opposition was full of heated rhetoric about unconstitutionality, as well as the same old unsubstantiated open-borders talking-points myth that sanctuary policies encourage illegal aliens to report crimes and cooperate with local police in solving them.  Concurrently, they continued to report that there aren’t any sanctuary cities in Iowa.  The bill, SF 481,  passed the Senate by a vote of 32-15 on April 12, 2017, with four Democrats joining 28 Republicans to support it.

Iowa is one of 25 states that carry over legislation from the first to the second year’s session of a two-year term.  So this year, once the legislature re-convened on January 8th, SF 481 quickly started moving again, this time in the House.  And the contradictory rhetoric opposing it resumed and escalated just as quickly.

We’re repeatedly told both that the bill would be harmful because it would interfere with local law enforcement’s current policies, as well as that “Iowa has no sanctuary cities”.  It appears to have escaped the people making these two points that they’re mutually exclusive: they literally cannot both be true.

SF 481 passed a three-member House subcommittee on January 31.  It has not yet received a hearing date in the full House Committee on Public Safety, but Chairman Clel Baudler has expressed support for the measure, so that can probably be expected sooner rather than later.  If approved there, then it will go to the House floor.  Should it pass both chambers, Governor Kim Reynolds has also indicated her support.

The legislature doesn’t adjourn until April 17, so there’s plenty of time still, but the House and the governor should follow the Senate’s lead, ignore the opposition’s confused and contradictory word games, and protect Iowans by enacting SF 481 into law as soon as possible.

About Author


Dave joined FAIR in 2017 after more than ten years as an Assistant State Attorney in Broward County, Florida. His prosecutorial experience covered trial litigation at the misdemeanor and felony levels, drug court and mental health court, and two years as an intake attorney in the juvenile division working closely with law enforcement. Before this, he was a legislative analyst/staff attorney with the Judiciary Committee of the Florida House of Representatives, where he assisted state legislators in ensuring the effectiveness and constitutionality of legislation on a wide variety of subject matter. In both capacities, he often dealt with the interaction of state law and immigration. Dave holds BAs in History and International Relations from American University and a JD from Tulane University Law School.

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