Immigration reform bill could impact Iowa colleges


State funding cuts leave Iowa universities in a tough spot. They’ll either have to increase tuition or face other consequences. 

Devyn Leeson

Immigration reform has been a political priority on the national level, but it hasn’t been the biggest focus in Iowa until now.

One Bill, SF 481, would bring the state more in line with national code by making it so local ordinances are overlooked when enforcing immigration laws. Under the bill, cities, counties, or campuses would no longer be able to have policies that protect illegal immigrants from ICE officials.

The bill passed the Senate last legislative session on a 32-15 vote. It faced a fiery debate from both sides with most of the Democrats and the one Independent opposing it and all of the Republicans in favor of it.

Sen. Julian Garrett, R-Indianola, who was the floor manager of the bill, said, “the bill serves to bring us in line with national laws and make sure that illegal immigrants who commit a crime are not able to do so again.”

When it was passed, the Senate had to convene special rules to vote on it because it was far past the deadline for bills of its type to be voted on. Republicans at the time stated that the bill would be eligible for consideration by the House next session if representatives wanted to pursue the bill in 2018, but it could not go any further that year.

Now that it is 2018, the bill is pending a committee meeting in the House where it is expected to face an equally tense debate.

Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames, said that her concerns with the bill stem from the “broad reaction” of the law enforcement community.

“Not a single law enforcement group is in favor of the bill because they believe it would break down trust in immigrant communities. These law enforcement officials don’t want to do what ICE does because they know that immigrants will be afraid to report crimes when the immigrants think doing so will get them deported,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

Another concern Wessel-Kroeschell and other Democrats bring up is that the bill asks officers to detain people for lengthy periods of time if they suspect them of being an illegal immigrant.

“This will most certainly lead to court battles and constitutional challenges,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

Supporters, like Sen. Garrett, said these claims are “bogus as many officers already do this exact practice.”

Garrett also stated that the concerns around the bill have no truth behind them as the bill has protections for those who report a crime or are a witness to a crime. “Studies show that in areas with these laws, everyone has the same propensity to report a crime whether they are an immigrant or not.”

This bill may have implications for Iowa State’s campus as well. Last year, the Iowa State Student Government overwhelmingly voted to make the campus a sanctuary campus. While this was only a symbolic vote and any legal protections for immigrant students would have to go through other governing bodies, this bill could make Iowa State seem less welcoming.

“If the bill passes it would make any previous immigrant protections moot, and that really could make Iowa State seem unwelcoming to new and diverse students,” Wessel-Kroeschell said.

This bill is expected to move out of committee and onto the house floor before the March legislative deadline and Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison, will lead the floor debate.