Justice Department warns it plans to sue Iowa over new state immigration law

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice has told Iowa’s top officials it plans to sue the state over a new law making it a crime for a person to be in Iowa if they’ve previously been denied admission to the U.S.

The statute interferes with the federal government’s authority to enforce immigration law, according to the DOJ, which already sued Texas to block a similar measure.

The DOJ informed Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and state Attorney General Brenna Bird that it intends to sue unless the state agrees by May 7 not enforce the law, according to a letter sent Thursday and first reported on by the Des Moines Register.

Bird indicated Friday that the state is unlikely to agree to the federal terms.

“Iowa will not back down and stand by as our state’s safety hangs in the balance,” she said in a statement.

The similar Texas law is on hold due to the Justice Department’s court challenge. Legal experts and some law enforcement officials have said the Iowa law poses the same questions raised in the Texas case because enforcing immigration law has historically fallen to federal authorities.

The Iowa law violates the U.S. Constitution because it “effectively creates a separate state immigration scheme,” the Justice Department said in its letter.

The law, which goes into effect on July 1, would allow criminal charges to be brought against people who have outstanding deportation orders or who previously have been removed from or denied admission to the U.S. Once in custody, migrants could either agree to a judge’s order to leave the U.S. or be prosecuted.

The law has elevated anxiety in Iowa’s immigrant communities, leading to protests in Des Moines and other cities Wednesday.

Republicans across the country have accused President Joe Biden of neglecting his duty to enforce federal immigration law.

“The only reason we had to pass this law is because the Biden Administration refuses to enforce the laws already on the books,” Reynolds said in a statement Friday.