Iowa Passes Bill to Make Returning After Deportation a State Crime


Iowa lawmakers passed a bill on Tuesday that would make it a crime to enter the state after being deported or denied entry into the United States. The passage puts the Midwestern state on track to join Texas in enforcing immigration outside the federal system.

The Iowa bill, which passed on the same day that the Supreme Court had briefly allowed Texas to enforce a new law empowering police officers to arrest unauthorized migrants, now goes to the desk of Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, who said she planned to sign it.

“President Biden and his administration have failed to enforce our immigration laws and, in doing so, have compromised the sovereignty of our nation and the safety of its people,” Ms. Reynolds said Tuesday evening in a statement. “States have stepped in to secure the border, preventing illegal migrants from entering our country and protecting our citizens.”

Iowa Democrats, who have lost power over the last decade and are vastly outnumbered in the Legislature, mostly opposed the legislation but were powerless to stop it.

“This bill is a political stunt and a false promise that doesn’t contain the needed resources,” State Senator Janice Weiner, a Democrat from the Iowa City area, said when her chamber debated the measure. “It’s a gotcha bill.”

The bill would make it a misdemeanor for someone to enter Iowa if they were previously deported, denied entry to the United States or had left the country while facing a deportation order. In some cases, including if the person had certain prior convictions, the state crime would become a felony. Iowa police officers would not be allowed to make arrests under this legislation at schools, places of worship or health care facilities.

About 6 percent of people in Iowa were born outside the United States.

The bill’s passage showed the enduring political import of immigration among conservatives even in places far from a border. As federal officials have struggled to manage an influx of migrants, several Republican-led states, including Iowa, have sent National Guard troops and law enforcement officers to Texas to support Gov. Greg Abbott’s increasingly assertive approach to policing the border.

Though Texas had already installed border security measures on private land that abuts Mexico, the law making it a state crime to cross the border illegally marked an escalation. The Biden administration has called that law, which until Tuesday had been blocked by the courts, an unconstitutional infringement on federal authority over immigration. The courts have not yet weighed in on the merits of the Texas law, and the Iowa legislation could face its own legal challenge.

Though the Iowa bill is more limited, it signals growing willingness from Republican officials to take on immigration issues that were long the exclusive domain of federal law enforcement. Arizona’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill this year that would have authorized the state police to arrest undocumented immigrants, but it was vetoed by the governor, a Democrat.

Even in Iowa, where the State Capitol is roughly 1,100 miles from the Mexican border and 500 miles from Canada, Republicans framed illegal immigration as an urgent threat to public safety.

“Every state is a border state,” State Senator Jeff Reichman, a Republican from southeast Iowa, said this month. “Iowa is no exception.”

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