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Federal judge blocks enforcement of Iowa immigration law

An Iowa judged determined that a new law barring noncitizens from reentering the state conflicts with federal immigration laws.

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — Iowa cannot enforce a newly enacted statute that makes it illegal under state law for noncitizens to be in the state after having previously been removed or excluded from the U.S., after an Iowa federal judge issued a preliminary injunction on Monday against the state.

The injunction from U.S. District Judge Stephen Locher responds to two suits brought separately against Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and other state officials on the same day in May — one by the U.S. Justice Department and another by the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice and two plaintiffs identified as Jane Doe and Elizabeth Roe.

Locher’s ruling temporarily blocks enforcement of Senate File 2340, which was set to go into effect July 1, pending further proceedings in the trial court.

The judge based the injunction on his conclusion that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of their argument that federal immigration law preempts Iowa’s law under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.

“As a matter of politics, the new legislation might be defensible,” Locher wrote. “As a matter of constitutional law, it is not. 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 judge wrote that the plaintiffs are likely to prevail not only on their argument that federal immigration law preempts Iowa’s law but that Iowa’s law conflicts with federal immigration law.

“Congress has established an intricate and specialized system, with multiple layers of review by trained immigration officials and judges, for determining when someone can be removed from this country and where they must go,” Locher wrote. “Importantly, noncitizens are not always returned to the foreign nation from which they came; instead, there are sometimes national security, border security, or foreign affairs reasons for sending them elsewhere.”

In contrast, he said, “Senate File 2340 recognizes none of this nuance and instead bluntly requires state court judges to order aliens to leave the United States and return to the foreign nation from which they came,” which he said “creates an untenable dichotomy between federal and state law in an area where the Supreme Court has recognized that the United States must speak with a single, harmonious voice.”

Reynolds, in a statement issued Monday, criticized the ruling and blamed the Biden administration for forcing Iowa into passing its law in the first place.

“With this injunction states are left defenseless to the ongoing crisis at our southern border,” she said. “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: rising crime, overdose deaths, and human trafficking.”

Reynolds, a Republican, signed the law April 10, making it illegal under state law for noncitizens to reenter this country after having previously been removed or excluded.

Under the law, violators could face deportation and up to 10 years in prison. This state law entirely bypasses the federal government, which is typically responsible for immigration and border enforcement.

Republican Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird released a statement Monday expressing disappointment in the injunction and added, “We will be appealing the court’s decision to uphold Iowa’s immigration enforcement law.”

Rita Bettis-Austen, an American Civil Liberties Union-Iowa attorney representing the immigration group, welcomed Monday’s ruling.

“We are relieved and grateful for the court’s decision, which for the time being blocks SF2340, among the worst anti-immigrant legislation in Iowa’s history and which exposed even lawful immigrants, and even children, to serious harms — arrest, detention, deportation, family separation, and incarceration, by the state,” Bettis-Austen said in a statement released Monday.

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Categories / Courts, Immigration, Law, Regional

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