Federal judge hears arguments regarding Iowa immigration law

David Goodner
Opponents of SF2340, a new law that creates a state crime for unlawful reentry, gather outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Des Moines June 10.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DES MOINES — Clergy, women religious and lay people from the Diocese of Davenport traveled to Des Moines on June 10 for a hearing in federal district court on whether to block a new immigration law scheduled to take effect July 1.

Iowa Capital Dispatch reported that Judge Stephen Locher of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa listened to arguments from lawyers with the U.S. Department of Justice, American Immigration Council and Patrick Valencia, Iowa’s deputy solicitor general. The federal government and civil rights groups, both of which are suing Iowa over the new law that creates a state crime for unlawful reentry, argued that it should be blocked permanently because it violates both federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

Valencia, according to Iowa Capital Dispatch, “argued that Iowa is not overstepping federal authority through the state law, as the measure does not contain new immigration rules. The law would just allow state authorities to enforce existing federal laws, he said, adding that the plaintiffs brought forward in the case would not be subject to the law because of their legal U.S. residency.” The judge said he would do his best to make a decision before July 1, Iowa Capital Dispatch said.


Deacon Kent Ferris, Social Action director for the Davenport Diocese, was inside the courtroom as were members of Escucha Mi Voz of Iowa, a faith-based, immigrant-led community organization. “The courtroom was full,” he said, estimating that supporters and opponents of the law each had about 45 people present.

Three plaintiffs, identified by first name only, “shared their stories and how they could be susceptible to deportation because there is no accommodation clearly delineated in SF2340 (the new law) for their specific plight,” Deacon Ferris said.  “Counsel representing the state later refuted that challenge going so far as to say the three may not even have legal rights to make the claim, going so far as to question whether one individual had actually reentered Iowa, a condition for the proposed actions the state could now pursue.”

“The judge questioned the attorney representing the state by saying that though the legislation approximates 75% of federal legislation, he wondered what of the other 25% not included, believing the lawmakers were intentional in their work.”

As lawyers made their arguments inside the courthouse, “the large group from Eastern Iowa rallied, (kept vigil), prayed and sang outside the courthouse,” according to a statement from Escucha Mi Voz. “Our message to Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird is, stop defending this unconstitutional, anti-God law,” said Father Nils Hernandez of Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Waterloo.

Bird released a statement the same day, defending the new law. “Since (President) Biden refuses to enforce our immigration laws, Iowa is doing the job for him.… Today, we made the case in court defending Iowa’s law that prohibits illegal reentry and keeps our communities safe.”

Escucha Mi Voz members will hold a statewide day of action on Monday, July 1 at 7 p.m., according to its statement.

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