US civil rights groups sue Iowa over immigrant arrest law

By Thomson Reuters May 9, 2024 | 4:07 PM

By Daniel Wiessner

(Reuters) – Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to block an Iowa law authorizing the arrest and prosecution of people who have returned to the U.S. after being deported, as a growing number of Republican-led states consider similar proposals.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups filed a complaint in Des Moines, Iowa, federal court claiming the law known as S.F. 2340 unlawfully interferes with the federal government’s ability to enforce U.S. immigration law.

The ACLU and the Biden administration have made the same argument in lawsuits challenging a similar Texas law that has served as a model for Republican lawmakers across the country who say President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has failed to address a recent increase in illegal border crossings.

Iowa’s law makes “illegal reentry” into the state a crime punishable by up to two years in prison and authorizes state judges to order that individuals return to their home countries after serving sentences.

The groups in the lawsuit say S.F. 2340 clashes with the system created by federal law for deporting people who are in the country illegally. And the state law does not exempt people who have legal status in the United States, including asylum applicants and recipients of visas for survivors of domestic violence, the groups said.

“There are lots of good reasons — related to foreign relations, national security, humanitarian interests, and our constitutional system — why the federal government enforces our immigration law, instead of all 50 states going out and doing their own thing,” said Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of the ACLU’s Iowa chapter.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, a Republican who signed the law last month, in a statement said she has a responsibility to protect Iowans.

“Since President Biden refuses to enforce our nation’s immigration laws – threatening the safety of our citizens – Iowa will step in,” Reynolds said.

The U.S. Department of Justice last week warned Reynolds that it would sue to block Iowa’s law if it takes effect, as it did in challenging the law adopted by Texas.

A U.S. appeals court in March blocked the Texas law while it considers the state’s appeal of a judge’s ruling that said it was invalid.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma last week enacted a law that is similar to the measures in Texas and Iowa, and several other states are considering bills.

(Reporting by Daniel Wiessner in Albany, New York, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Aurora Ellis)