Iowa law lets police arrest migrants; the federal government and civil rights groups are suing

A woman under an umbrella holds a sign that says, "Iowa Nice, Not ICE"
An Iowa Movement for Migrant Justice rally May 1 in Des Moines. The federal government and civil rights groups are suing on behalf of the group and others.
(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

The U.S. Justice Department is suing Iowa over its new law that will give the state the authority to arrest and deport some migrants.

The Justice Department’s lawsuit and another suit filed by civil rights and immigrant rights groups argued the state law, which goes into effect July 1, was preempted by federal law and should be declared invalid.

“Iowa cannot disregard the U.S. Constitution and settled Supreme Court precedent,” Principal Deputy Assistant Atty. Gen. Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, said in a statement on Thursday. “We have brought this action to ensure that Iowa adheres to the framework adopted by Congress and the Constitution for regulation of immigration.”


Depending on whom you ask, the federal immigration app CBP One is a solution to the border crisis, a human rights violation or a ploy to let anyone into the U.S.

May 9, 2024

The federal action was expected, as the Department of Justice warned Iowa’s top officials last week that the agency would sue unless they agreed not to enforce the new law. The law is similar to a more expansive Texas statute that has been challenged by the Justice Department and civil rights groups.

The Justice Department lawsuit was filed on the same day the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Iowa and the American Immigration Council filed suit to block the law on behalf of the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice and two individual Iowans.

“This ugly law is deeply harmful to Iowa families and communities,” said Rita Bettis Austen, legal director of the ACLU of Iowa. “Iowa lawmakers knowingly targeted people who are protected by federal immigration laws and who are legally allowed to be here.”

An encampment in the Juarez neighborhood of Mexico City shows how migration is impacting countries south of the U.S. border.

May 7, 2024

Iowa Atty. Gen. Brenna Bird said Thursday that the state would not back down, and that the law existed because President Biden hasn’t secured the southern border.

“Iowa’s law is not unique; it simply enforces immigration laws while Biden refuses to,” Bird, a Republican, said in a written statement. “Iowa stands ready to defend our immigration law that keeps Iowa communities safe.”

The Iowa law has increased fear among immigrant communities that enforcement would lead to racial and ethnic profiling, complicate interactions with police or dissuade residents from reporting crime. Activist and advocacy groups, including one named in the suit, have hosted gatherings to try to answer people’s questions and organized protests in response.


A new Iowa law has elevated anxiety in immigrant communities and prompted questions among legal experts and law enforcement on how it will be enforced.

April 12, 2024

Texas was allowed to enforce the law for only a few confusing hours in March before the statute was put on hold by a federal appeals court. The appellate panel heard arguments in April and will next issue a decision on the law’s constitutionality.

Some law enforcement officials and legal experts have said unanswered questions remain about how the laws in Iowa and Texas would be implemented, since enforcement of immigration law has historically fallen to the federal government and is a binational process.

The Iowa law would allow criminal charges to be brought against people who have outstanding deportation orders or who previously have been removed from or denied admission to the United States. Once in custody, migrants could either agree to a judge’s order to leave the U.S. or be prosecuted, potentially facing time in prison before deportation.

The federal lawsuit states that because the Constitution assigns the task of regulating immigration and managing international borders to the federal government, the state law should not be enforced.

The change comes as the White House and Democrats play offense on the border and immigration, one of the top issues ahead of the presidential election.

May 9, 2024

The Iowa lawsuit also contends that the law conflicts with federal law and could direct police to arrest people who are authorized to be in the U.S., such as people who have been granted asylum or have visas. The suit said the law could result in the prosecution of children brought to Iowa by their parents.

“It will create absolute chaos and human suffering in our legal system, and harm Iowa communities,” said Melloy Goettel, legal director at the American Immigration Council.


Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican who signed the new legislation into law, reiterated her support for the change.

“As Governor, I have a responsibility to protect the citizens of Iowa,” Reynolds said in a written statement that repeated the arguments of other GOP leaders. “Since President Biden refuses to enforce our nation’s immigration laws — threatening the safety of our citizens — Iowa will step in.”

Fingerhut writes for the Associated Press.

A bill in Iowa that would allow the state to arrest and deport some migrants is stoking anxiety among immigrant communities.

April 1, 2024