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DOJ, civil rights groups sue to block controversial Iowa immigration bill

Written by on May 10, 2024

Kim Renyolds, governor of Iowa, center, during a news conference in Mission, Texas, Oct. 6, 2021. Texas Governor Abbott and Republican state chief executives from around the nation gathered at the border to again call attention to unauthorized immigration across the Rio Grande. — Sergio Flores/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — The Department of Justice and civil rights groups filed two separate lawsuits on Thursday aiming to block a controversial immigration law — known as SF 2340 — from going into effect in Iowa.

SF 2340 authorizes local law enforcement officials to arrest migrants who have previously been deported or removed from the country, or who have been denied entry in the past. It also gives judges the power to order a person to be sent back to the country from which the person entered the United States.

The law also does not prohibit children from being charged.

The DOJ’s lawsuit comes just one week after Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton penned a letter to Gov. Kim Reynolds, obtained by ABC News, urging her to strike down the law by May 7 or face legal action.

The state lawmakers passed the law last month and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed it, it’s scheduled to go into effect on July 1.

“Iowa cannot disregard the U.S. Constitution and settled Supreme Court precedent,” said Boynton in a statement. “We have brought this action to ensure that Iowa adheres to the framework adopted by Congress and the Constitution for regulation of immigration.”

The law was largely shaped after a similar law in Texas — Senate Bill 4, also known as SB 4 — which is currently blocked from going into effect while its constitutionality is decided by the courts. The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against that law as well, which allows local law enforcement officials to arrest migrants they suspect of entering the country illegally. Like the Iowa law, it authorizes a judge to order a person’s removal from the country.

Early on Thursday, the American Immigration Council, American Civil Liberties Union, and the ACLU of Iowa filed a separate lawsuit on behalf of the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice and two people the immigrant rights organization represents.

In the lawsuit, lawyers for the group said the law does not create exceptions for people who have previously been deported or denied admission, but who were later given authorization to be in the country. The groups said this means even people who have been granted asylum, are part of a protected class, or have green cards could be arrested and imprisoned.

One story highlighted in the lawsuit is that of an 18-year-old Honduran migrant whose father was murdered and sister was kidnapped in her home country. She came to the U.S. when she was 14, but was deported, according to the ACLU. She later came back to the U.S. on her own and was granted asylum.

The groups allege she’d be eligible for arrest and imprisonment under the law. 
A conviction under the law would carry anywhere from a 2-10 year prison sentence. Some offenders could face up to 5 years in prison, under a Class D felony, if their removal was “subsequent to a conviction for commission of two or more misdemeanors involving drugs, crimes against a person, or both,” the law states.

Others could be charged with a Class C felony and face up to 10 years in prison if they were previously removed due to a felony conviction. All convicted people would face a removal order although some would get the opportunity to opt for removal instead of further prosecution.

“This ugly law is deeply harmful to Iowa families and communities. Iowa lawmakers knowingly targeted people who are protected by federal immigration laws and who are legally allowed to be here, like people granted asylum, or special visas given to survivors of domestic violence or other crimes,” ACLU of Iowa Legal Director Rita Bettis Austen said in a statement. “And 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 to enforce their own separate immigration schemes. It’s hard to overstate how awful and bizarre this law is.”

In a post on X, Gov. Reynolds accused President Joe Biden of refusing to enforce existing immigration laws.

“The DOJ and ACLU are suing lowa for protecting our citizens, all while Joe Biden refuses to enforce immigration laws already on the books. If he won’t stand for the rule of law, lowa will!” the governor wrote.

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