Signed into Law: Iowa Bans Immigration “Sanctuary City” Policies

DES MOINES, Iowa (April 12, 2018) – On Tuesday, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a bill into law in effect prohibiting so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to help enforce some federal immigration laws.

Senate Local Government Committee introduced Senate Bill 481 (SF481) on March 7. Under the new law, “a local entity shall not adopt or enforce a policy or take any other action under which the local entity prohibits or discourages the enforcement of immigration laws.” The law also bars local agencies from prohibiting or discouraging law enforcement officers and other officials from inquiring about the immigration status of a person under arrest or detention, or from sharing such information with federal authorities.

Local entities violating the law will lose state funds.

The law contains provisions barring discrimination and prohibits the collection of information from a crime victim or witness “including the victim’s, witness’, or person’s national origin, that is not pertinent to the investigation of the alleged public offense.”

By Jan. 1, all Iowa state and local law enforcement agencies must formalize in writing any unwritten, informal policies relating to the enforcement of immigration laws and update the agency’s policies to be consistent with the new law.

SF481 initially passed the Senate by a 32-15 vote. The House passed an amended version 55-45. The Senate concurred with the House version by a 28-18 vote. With Gov. Reynolds’ signature, the new law will go into effect July 1.


Some U.S. cities and the state of California have refused to participate in some aspects of federal immigration enforcement. In most of these situations, government and law enforcement agencies in these cities don’t actively stop ICE from enforcing immigration laws. However, in a narrow sense, they simply don’t provide any support or assistance to federal agents. These cities leave it to the federal government to enforce federal law.

Non-cooperation with federal enforcement rests on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. Simply put, the federal government cannot force states or their political subdivisions to help implement or enforce any federal act or regulatory program.

It would appear that Pres. Trump recognizes this as well. In his Jan. 25 Executive Order on “sanctuary jurisdictions,” he acknowledges that his policy of having state and local agents act as interior federal immigration enforcement will be done “with the consent of State or local officials.”

SF481 represents a constitutional way to force cities to help enforce immigration laws. The federal government cannot do it do it. But if a state decides it wants to spend its time, money and resources assisting the federal government, they can certainly make that choice.

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