Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Federal judge urged to block enforcement of Iowa immigration law

U.S. Department of Justice lawyers argue the federal government, not the states, is exclusively empowered to set immigration policy.

DES MOINES, Iowa (CN) — The U.S. Department of Justice and an Iowa immigrant rights group urged a federal judge in Des Moines Monday to issue an injunction against enforcement of Iowa’s new statute that makes it illegal under state law for noncitizens to be in the state after having previously been removed or excluded from this country.

DOJ lawyers argue the federal government, not the states, is exclusively empowered to set immigration policy, which can affect foreign relations, trade, tourism, and diplomatic relations.

Iowa’s law would have a “dramatic impact on this nation’s conduct of foreign relations,” Christopher Eiswerth, a DOJ lawyer based in Washington, D.C., told U.S. District Judge Stephen Locher at Monday’s hearing. The Iowa law will have an “impact on our ability to interact with other countries” in negotiating immigration issues. Those efforts are going to be compromised, he argued, if those countries must negotiate not just with the U.S. government but with 50 states.

In response, Patrick Valencia, deputy Iowa solicitor general, said Iowa passed its law because of the influx of immigrants at the southern border. 

“There is an immigration crisis in this country,” Valencia told the court. He said there is no conflict between federal immigration enforcement powers and the statute passed by the state. The fact that the U.S. government “has the prerogative to set the standard” on immigration law “does not abrogate the states’ right to enforce those standards within their own borders.”

Locher said at the end of Monday’s hearing that he would issue a ruling before the law takes effect July 1. The judge said he would rule in time to allow for an appeal, and if he decides to issue an injunction, he raised the possibility of making it a permanent injunction.

Under Iowa’s law, Senate File 2340, passed in March and signed by Republican Governor Kim Reynolds in April, violators could face deportation and up to 10 years in prison.

Most recently, Texas’ nearly identical law, which likewise criminalized illegal reentry and would require Texas to remove noncitizens from the country, was preliminarily enjoined by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. The New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in March kept in place the lower court’s injunction barring enforcement while litigation proceeds.

The Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice and two plaintiffs identified as Jane Doe and Elizabeth Roe sued the state last month naming Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird and two Iowa county attorneys as defendants. The same day, the DOJ filed a similar suit naming Reynolds and state officials as defendants.

In both complaints, the plaintiffs argue the federal government has exclusive power to regulate immigration. They cite the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Arizona v. United States, which recognized that the authority to admit and remove noncitizens is a core responsibility of the federal government.

That’s because national policy toward immigration is “intricately interwoven” with the conduct of foreign relations, the federal government argues in a brief filed with the district court, because immigration can affect trade, tourism, and diplomatic relations for the entire nation.

Iowa’s law conflicts with federal law, the government argues, because it “requires state judges to order a noncitizen to return to a foreign country without following the federally prescribed process for selecting the country of removal and coordinating with that country. Under federal law, federal officials must work with foreign governments to determine if they will accept those noncitizens.” States have no authority to conduct those types of diplomatic discussions with foreign governments, the government argues.

In its brief in support of an injunction, the immigrant group argues the persons it represents “will suffer irreparable harm by being placed at immediate risk of arrest, prosecution, detention, and removal under a state statute that is preempted by federal law.”

In response, the state argues in a brief filed with the court that despite the federal government’s argument that the U.S. government preempts state action to regulate immigration, the Biden administration has ignored its statutory obligation to control immigration.

Iowa said illegal border crossings have hit record highs over the past four years, with up to 250,000 people apprehended at the border each month.

The administration’s inaction is “akin to posting a flashing ‘Come In, We’re Open’ sign on the southern border,” the state's brief said, quoting a federal case from Florida. “The federal government should not be permitted to invoke field preemption based on laws it declines to enforce.”

Follow @@roxalaird16
Categories / Government, Immigration, Law, National

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.