Legislation raises concerns

Local law enforcement, residents react to state immigration enforcement bill

A bill requiring local communities to comply with federal immigration agencies is making its way through the state House of Representatives, and the legislation is getting some local push-back.

“I’m not aware of there being any agencies in Iowa that do not comply or work well with federal law enforcement partners,” said Marshalltown Police Chief Mike Tupper, who also spoke against Senate File 481 during a House subcommittee meeting Tuesday. “I don’t think this is a problem in Iowa, and I know it’s not a problem in Marshalltown and Marshall County.” Supporters have said the bill is designed to prevent “sanctuary cities” from developing in the state. Law enforcement groups like the Iowa State Sheriff’s and Deputies’ Association oppose the bill.

Written by Republican state Sen. Julian Garrett of Indianola, the legislation could see local law enforcement agencies stripped of state funding if they do not comply with immigration detainer requests by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials.

State funding could also be taken away from a local entity for intentionally not complying with other provisions laid out in the bill, such as preventing officers from complying with ICE requests.

“In order for us to have a safe community, we need to be able to build relationships with everybody that lives here, and it’s not helpful if there’s a segment of our population that’s afraid to talk to the police or contact the police,” Tupper said. “Whether we like it or not, anytime we have these types of discussions, I know it does discourage some segments of the population from working with law enforcement.”

Marshall County Sheriff Steve Hoffman said the county already works with ICE and other federal agencies.

“We have a contractual relationship with the federal government that’s been ongoing for a number of years,” he said, adding if a person in the custody of the sheriff’s office is suspected of being in the country illegally, they are reported to appropriate federal agencies.

Hoffman also said deputies cooperate with federal immigration agents during some narcotics and task force operations.

“I would support and reiterate Chief Tupper’s concern that, if the community fears local law enforcement acting in the capacity of immigration agents, that we will lose the opportunity to talk to witnesses that can help us solve crime,” he said. “Crime victims, without a doubt, would or could be hesitant to come forward to report crimes, even if we’re not acting in that capacity.”

Section 9 of the bill does provide protection for witnesses, reporters and victims of crimes who may be undocumented. Law enforcement officials would not be able to ask for or collect information on the national origin of an alleged victim or witness which “is not pertinent to the investigation of the alleged public offense.”

Despite that provision, Marshalltown resident, Simpson College political science student and DACA recipient Cecilia Martínez said such legislation can cause fear and rumors to spread within the undocumented community.

“Even though [local agencies] are still cooperating (with federal immigration agents) on their own accord, the community still sees the police as people they can trust,” she said. “But with this it’s going to make it harder.”

State House Minority Leader Rep. Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown, said he opposes the bill.

“The way I see it, if this is implemented, this is a huge unfunded mandate for cities and counties,” he said. “There is no provision for funding for it; this is going to be one more thing that the federal government should be doing that’s going to fall on the property taxpayers of Iowa.”

Smith added ongoing efforts in Marshalltown to build trust between police and the undocumented community could be harmed by the legislation.

“As Chief Tupper and other law enforcement officers have shown, these kinds of efforts will increase crime, not lessen crime,” he said.

State Rep. Dean Fisher, R-Montour, said he supports the bill.

“I do support the bill and its goals; it’s just common sense that our local law enforcement would work with immigration (officials and agencies),” he said. “If they are cooperating, then this bill will have no effect on them.”

Fisher said the bill is not meant to see local law enforcement officials do the job of federal immigration agents.

“I don’t know if they would be designated to [immigration agents’] job,” he said. “It has a lot to do with retaining people that they have in jail for other crimes and to go ahead and detain them.”

Joa LaVille of Immigrant Allies of Marshalltown spoke out against the bill.

“My opposition to SF 481 is not about ‘sanctuary,’ it is about belief that due process, as outlined by the Constitution, means something,” she said. “All of us, including families in the immigrant community, want to live in a safe community.”

LaVille questioned the bill’s constitutionality.

“Police departments all over Iowa honor detainer requests from federal agencies, including ICE, when accompanied by a warrant,” she said. “Forcing local law enforcement to detain someone without a warrant will erode the trust that Marshalltown Police Department has worked so hard to build with the immigrant community.”

The bill passed the Senate during the 2017 legislative session on a 32-15 vote, which included all Senate Republicans and four Democrats.

State Sen. Jeff Edler, R-State Center, could not be reached for comment by press time; he voted in favor of the bill last year.

SF 481 passed a House subcommittee earlier this week. It can now be considered by the House Public Safety Committee; if that committee passes the legislation, it could be debated by the entire chamber.

For more information, visit https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com