Judge Blocks Iowa’s Attempt to Enforce Its Own Immigration Law

A federal judge on Monday temporarily blocked Iowa from enforcing its own immigration law, which makes it a state crime to enter Iowa after being deported or denied entry into the United States.

The ruling comes amid a national push by statehouse conservatives to assert authority over illegal immigration, which the Justice Department argues is solely the federal government’s responsibility.

“As a matter of politics, the new legislation might be defensible,” Judge Stephen Locher wrote. “As a matter of constitutional law, it is not.”

Iowa is among a few Republican-led states that have enacted a form of state-level immigration enforcement this year, infuriating Biden administration officials who have described the laws as unconstitutional overreach. Iowa officials vowed to appeal the judge’s order granting the preliminary injunction.

“I am disappointed in today’s court decision that blocks Iowa from stopping illegal reentry and keeping our communities safe,” the state attorney general, Brenna Bird, a Republican, said in a statement. “Since Biden refuses to secure our borders, he has left states with no choice but to do the job for him.”

Immigration has become a top issue in this year’s presidential campaign, and federal authorities have seen a surge in migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. Many states with Republican governors, including Iowa, have also sent National Guard troops to Texas to assist with border security.

“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,” Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa, a Republican, said in a statement on Monday. “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.”

After Ms. Reynolds, a Republican, signed the bill into law, the Justice Department sued and asked a federal judge to step in before the measure is to take effect on July 1.

“Iowa cannot disregard the U.S. Constitution and settled Supreme Court precedent,” Brian M. Boynton, the head of the Civil Division of the Justice Department, said in a statement when the lawsuit was filed. “We have brought this action to ensure that Iowa adheres to the framework adopted by Congress and the Constitution for regulation of immigration.”

Judge Locher, who was appointed by President Biden, said he believed those challenging the law were likely to prevail in a trial on the merits, and listed specific concerns with how Iowa legislators envisioned the law working.

“The fact that Senate File 2340 compels Iowa state court judges to issue orders requiring noncitizens to return to the foreign nation from which they came makes the conflict preemption problem even worse,” wrote Judge Locher, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. “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.”

Efforts by conservative states to carve out a role in immigration enforcement and resistance to those efforts from the Biden administration have exposed the enduring tension in the balance of power between federal and state government. The legality of the state immigration laws could eventually be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Federal judges have temporarily blocked enforcement this year of a Texas law that allowed police officers to arrest and expel migrants, and a portion of a Florida law that made it a crime to transport into the state anyone who lacked lawful immigration status. The Justice Department has also sued over a law passed in Oklahoma that makes it a state crime for a foreigner who did not legally enter the United States to be in Oklahoma.

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