Posted on April 4, 2024

Migrants in Iowa Wonder Whether to Leave Over a Bill That Could See Some Arrested and Deported

Hannah Fingerhut, Associated Press, April 1, 2024

A bill in Iowa that would allow the state to arrest and deport some migrants is stoking anxiety among immigrant communities, leaving some to wonder: “Should I leave Iowa?”

The legislation, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, would make it a state crime for a person to be in Iowa if previously denied admission to or removed from the United States. It mirrors part of a Texas law that is currently blocked i n court.

Across Iowa, Latino and immigrant community groups are organizing informational meetings and materials to try to answer people’s questions. They’re also asking local and county law enforcement agencies for official statements, as well as face-to-face meetings.

As 80 people gathered in a Des Moines public library community room last week, community organizer Fabiola Schirrmeister pulled written questions out of a tin can. In Spanish, one asked: “Is it safe to call the police?” Another asked: “Can Iowa police ask me about my immigration status?” And: “What happens if I’m racially profiled?”

Erica Johnson, executive director of Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, the organization hosting the meeting, sighed when one person asked: “Should I leave Iowa?”


Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert told The Associated Press in an email that immigration status does not factor into the department’s work to keep the community safe, and he said it would be “disingenuous and contradictory” to incorporate it at the same time law enforcement has been working to eliminate such bias.


In Iowa and across the country, Republican leaders have rallied around the refrain that “every state is a border state” as they accuse President Joe Biden of neglecting his responsibilities to enforce federal immigration law. {snip}

Iowa’s lawmakers advanced the measure to address what one lawmaker called a “clear and present danger” posed to Iowans by some migrants crossing the southern border. Republican Rep. Steve Holt acknowledged questions of constitutionality around the bill but ultimately argued that Iowa has “the right, the duty and the moral obligation to act to protect our citizens and our sovereignty.”

“If we end up in a court battle with the federal government, should this pass, bring it on,” Holt said during a subcommittee meeting in February. “I think it’s time for every state to stand up and say … ‘we’ve had enough. We will defend our people.’”


The Iowa legislation, like the Texas law, could mean criminal charges for people who have outstanding deportation orders or who have previously been removed from or denied admission to the U.S. Once in custody, migrants could either agree to a judge’s order to leave the U.S. or be prosecuted.