Iowa Emerges as Next Legal Battleground Over State Immigration Policy

An Iowa court hearing on Monday will mark a notable moment in a legal debate rippling across the country, as several states seek to take immigration matters into their own hands.

AP/Ross D. Franklin
Hundreds of migrants, mostly from African countries, gather along the border waiting to be brought into custody after breaking through gaps in the border wall near Lukeville, Arizona. AP/Ross D. Franklin

With a highly-awaited Fifth Circuit Court ruling over a Texas immigration law making illegal entry a state crime hanging in the air, another legal battle over state authority in immigration is unfolding in Iowa. 

A federal judge is set to preside over a consolidated hearing on Monday after both the Biden administration and immigrants’ rights groups challenged Iowa’s Senate File 2340 — which makes it a crime for noncitizens to enter Iowa after being denied admission or deported from America. Seeking to block it from going into effect on July 1, the Justice Department argues that the state law violates the Supremacy Clause and the Foreign Commerce Clause. 

Iowa’s court hearing marks a notable moment in a legal debate rippling across the country, as several states are seeking to take immigration matters into their own hands. Arguing that the Biden administration’s lack of border enforcement has left them no other choice, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Idaho are among recent states passing or considering measures to regulate immigration on a state level.

Last week, Arizona’s legislature approved a ballot measure making it a crime for noncitizens to cross the border except at legal ports of entry and would make selling fentanyl that results in a person’s death punishable by up to a decade in prison. That ballot measure is already being challenged in court by a Latino advocacy group, and Oklahoma’s legislation has been challenged by the Justice Department. 

The state laws are mimicking a Texas law, Senate Bill 4, which has been tied up for months as the Fifth Circuit court of appeals. In oral arguments in April, the three-judge panel appeared split over the merits of the law and whether it was constitutional, as Texas argued the “unprecedented border crisis” forced the state to defend itself.

A central issue in both the Texas and Iowa cases is a 2012 Supreme Court case, Arizona v. United States, in which the justices blocked parts of a state law that they said conflicted with federal immigration operations. 

That case is cited by the Biden administration in the Iowa court filings, as it argues the “‘government of the United States has broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration and the status of’ noncitizens.” The Justice Department contends that it is seeking to “preserve its exclusive authority under federal law to regulate the entry and removal of noncitizens.” 

“Iowa cannot create its own immigration system,” the federal government’s court filing reads. In addition to intruding on the federal government’s exclusive immigration authority, it notes, Iowa’s efforts “frustrate the United States’ immigration operations” and “interfere with U.S. foreign relations.” 

In reference to the Arizona decision, the Justice Department contends that where the federal government and state government both act on immigration, “the state law must give way.”

Iowa, for its part, responds that its state law simply “codifies a criminal analogue to the federal crime of illegal reentry” and argues that since every crime it penalizes is already a federal crime, it doesn’t affect foreign relations. 

“The Supreme Court has expressly stated that States retained sovereign police power related to immigration,” an Iowa court filing notes. “So long as States do not use that power to regulate admissibility or removal standards or alien registration, and so long as the state crime criminalizes conduct already criminalized federally, the Supreme Court has found no constitutional flaws.” 

Iowa cites President Biden’s declaration of an illegal immigration “crisis” and notes that “illegal border crossings have hit record highs over the past four years, with up to 250,000 people at the border each month.”

The New York Sun

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