Iowa immigration law blocked temporarily

Barb Arland-Fye/The Catholic Messenger, Davenport
Participants at the “For Human Dignity” vigil/rally outside St. Anthony Catholic Church in Davenport, Iowa, hold placards protesting Iowa’s new law that makes it a state crime for illegal reentry into Iowa. A federal district court judge issued a preliminary injunction June 17 preventing the new law from taking effect.


6/20 update: Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird filed an appeal June 19. The case will now go to the Eight Circuit Court of Appeals, which will rule on whether to keep the injunction in place or dissolve it. The case could then be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Catholic Messenger will continue to update you on this ongoing story.

By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

DES MOINES — A federal district court judge issued a preliminary injunction June 17 preventing Iowa’s new immigration law from taking effect July 1. The decision raised the hopes of immigration advocates, including a priest from the Diocese of Davenport and one from the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Gov. Kim Reynolds defended the state law and gave her support to Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird appealing the judge’s decision.

In his ruling Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher said that the Iowa Legislature, dissatisfied with how the U.S. government is handling immigration, “decided to take matters into its own hands by enacting new legislation (known as Senate File 2340).” Among other things, the new law “imposes criminal penalties under state law for certain immigration-related offenses; and requires state court judges to order noncitizens to return to the foreign countries from which they came.”


“As a matter of politics, the new legislation might be defensible. As a matter of constitutional law, it is not,” Judge Locher said. “Under binding Supreme Court precedent, Senate File 2340 is preempted in its entirety by federal law and thus is invalid under the Supremacy Clause. The Court therefore grants the motions for preliminary injunction filed by the Plaintiffs … and enjoins the enforcement of Senate File 2340 pending further proceedings.”

Judge Locher, who serves with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, identified the law’s potential harms, including: “(a) permanent legal residents facing a risk of prosecution and criminal punishment under state law despite having permission under federal law to be present in the United States; (b) state court prosecutions for illegal reentry moving forward even when defendants are in the process of applying for legal status under federal law; (c) untrained state court judges entering orders requiring noncitizens to leave the United States following an adjudicatory process with fewer safeguards and far less sophistication than the federal system.”

He said the federal government and the Iowa Migration Movement “have established a likelihood of success on the merits of their position that federal immigration law preempts Senate File 2340.”

Judge Locher’s decision comes one week after he heard arguments from lawyers with the U.S. Department of Justice, the Iowa Migrant Movement and Iowa’s deputy solicitor general. The federal government and civil rights groups, in two separate lawsuits, argued that the new law should be blocked permanently because it violates both federal law and the U.S. Constitution.

Gov. Reynolds said in her June 17 statement, “With this injunction states are left defenseless to the ongoing crisis at our southern border. Plainly, the Biden administration is failing to do their job and enforce federal immigration laws allowing millions to enter and re-enter without any consequence or delay. I signed this bill into law to protect Iowans and our communities from the results of this border crisis,” she said. “I support Attorney General Bird in appealing this decision.”

Manny Galvez of Escucha Mi Voz Iowa and the Iowa City Catholic Worker said Gov. Reynolds’ description of the border crisis is inaccurate. He said the law, if enacted, would separate families. “We need immigration reform,” he said during a June 17 virtual news conference organized by Escucha Mi Voz. “We are part of Iowa.”

All of the speakers at the virtual news conference expressed mixed emotions of excitement, happiness and concern because the fight to cancel the state law is not over. “This is definitely a victory,” said Yaneli Canales, an organizer with Escucha Mi Voz. However, “We know the fight is not over yet.” She said statewide demonstrations are planned for July 1 at 7 p.m. in Des Moines, Waterloo and Iowa City.

One of the demonstrations will take place in Waterloo, where Father Nils Hernandez of Queen of Peace Parish anticipates a turnout of 500 to 1,000 people. He felt encouraged by the judge’s decision but also noted that the fight against the law must continue. “I feel God has answered some prayers,” he said. “We are celebrating that God is with us.”

“The judge’s ruling gives us more time to keep fighting,” Father Guillermo Trevino, pastor of St. Joseph parishes in West Liberty and Columbus Junction said in a prepared statement. “I pray Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird has a change of heart and does not appeal the judge’s decision,” the priest said in the statement issued by Escucha Mi Voz.

Escucha Mi Voz Iowa, a multi-service organization, works to build the power of immigrant workers to achieve dignity and justice in society. The organization has more than 500 individual members and 40 congregational members, according to a news release.

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