A cynical law



Wasting time from solving important problems, the Iowa House on Tuesday concurred with the Senate and approved on a 55-45 vote a bill that would deny state funding to any jurisdiction that refuses to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. They call such places “sanctuary cities.” There are no sanctuary cities in Iowa. There is no provocation. There is no problem so solve. The bill was unnecessary, and the Iowa Supreme Court might find it unconstitutional. It will have no practical effect other than to instill fear in people of color, especially Latinos. Which is the entire point of the legislation.

One would think that criminal Mexican marauders imperil people in Storm Lake, Cherokee, Denison and Aurelia. They don’t. When a criminal undocumented immigrant is arrested, that information goes into a federal database. If Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE) tells Storm Lake Police or the Buena Vista County Sheriff’s Office to put a hold on that suspect the local authorities do. The same is true in Iowa City or Des Moines. Everywhere in Iowa. That’s why every law enforcement and public safety group lobbied against this bill. There simply is no problem to address. Police worry that the message that otherwise law-abiding undocumented people receive is to fear law enforcement, and to go underground. That is happening already in Storm Lake. People police used to see they see no longer. For each of them it is a lost set of eyes and ears on the street that once helped police catch the real bad guys — undocumented or not. That is a real problem, not a fantasy.

So, this bill is unnecessary. If ICE wants someone, the Storm Lake Police and the BV County Sheriff’s Office are there to assist if necessary. They always have been. Actually, often people who are held for ICE eventually get sprung from jail because ICE never comes to pick them up. These are not the concerns of legislators. Neither is the Iowa Supreme Court which ruled that local law enforcement is not supposed to arrest and charge someone for having false working papers because that is a federal civil offense. This bill sets up a conflict with existing case law. If state funds were denied to Iowa City — Would the troopers not guard Kirk Ferentz anymore? — perhaps a band of Hawkeye fans with standing could sue on behalf of a so-called sanctuary city. And win.

But we know that Iowa City will not be denied state funding. Neither will Storm Lake or Buena Vista County, which do not arrest people just for being undocumented. They have better things to do, and they are following orders from the state high court. This bill was sort of like the English as the Official Language law ramrodded by then State Sen. Steve King, R-Kiron. It did nothing to actually promote English. It was meant to be a slap at the poor people who speak Spanish (or Thai), and tell them that they are not welcome. The sanctuary cities bill is the same thing. Its passage coincides with President Trump vowing not to normalize Dreamers, to militarize the border with Iowa’s biggest trading partner, Mexico, and to push sanctuary cities sanctions across the country (whether they actually exist or not).

This was all set up to be yet another campaign wedge issue.

It doesn’t matter that it makes the cop’s job more difficult and treacherous, never knowing with whom he or she is really dealing. It makes the job more burdensome if they are to become the jack-booted thugs for Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. They will be too busy rounding up poor Latina girls at Buena Vista University to chase drunk drivers or wife beaters. And if you knew the cops were going to deport you, would you call in on an abusive drunken lout of a husband?

So let it be. It is a stupid bill. It is meaningless. It is unenforceable. It runs against Iowa jurisprudence. It is mean and shallow. It will hold back Storm Lake from becoming an integrated community. That is all it will do. Most Iowans will recognize the cruelty and cynicism of it. Let it be a campaign issue. Let the challengers say that while Gov. Kim Reynolds terrorized Iowa Dreamers by signing this legislation, and thumbed her nose at every sheriff and police chief, she failed to do anything to get nursing home Medicaid back payments cleared up. Let them say that she made this state a fiscal fiasco that looks more like Kansas every day. Let them say that while she and her cronies fiddled, Iowa burned opportunity. That will be a debate worth having.