Human Life and DignityImmigration and RefugeesIssues

Understanding and responding to “anti-sanctuary city” legislation

By April 23, 2018No Comments

With the passage of Senate File 481, the state of Iowa has changed the relationship of local law enforcement with the Immigration Control Enforcement agency. The bishops of Iowa opposed the legislation, known as the “anti-sanctuary city” bill, and encourage Catholics throughout Iowa to learn more about their own Fourth Amendment rights and how they can make their communities safer and more welcoming to immigrants. While we seek to maintain our values and safety, we must also exercise compassion in assisting and continuing to “welcome the stranger.”

Click here for an FAQ on the new law. En Español.

Among other provisions, the new law requires local jails to comply with all requests from ICE (immigration control) to hold immigrants, even when federal law does not require it. Under the U.S. Constitution, these ICE “detainers” are merely requests that local law enforcement hold a person for an additional 48 hours. This new law encourages local law enforcement to detain people who would have otherwise been released, in order to assist ICE in implementing deportation proceedings. If adopted, such policies could cause the separation of families and imposition of a penalty that is out-of-proportion to the wrong that has been done.

We support the right of local governments to exercise reasonable and appropriate discretion in the handling of immigrant detainees, consistent with the need to maintain public safety, but we do not believe that an escalation of immigrant detention and intensive use of local enforcement in communities is the way to achieve compassionate and merciful reform of our immigration system.

In response to the new law, you are encouraged to know your own 4th Amendment rights: ICE cannot enter your business, home, church or children’s school without a search warrant. You can download the Know Your Rights cards and ask your children’s school, your doctor, local media, and law enforcement to consider distributing them.

Click here for Know Your Rights cards in English and Spanish.

You can encourage your co-workers, neighbors, family members, and friends who are migrants to consider becoming U.S. citizens or apply for legal status. An online screening tool is available and Catholic Charities offers free legal services to help in this process.

We also encourage you to pray for:

  • our police, who sacrifice to keep us safe;
  • migrants, who seek a better life for their families;
  • our leaders, who seek the common good;
  • ourselves, that we all may be worthy of the promises of Christ.


Know the facts about newcomers to Iowa

  • Immigrants make up a little more than five percent of Iowa’s population. We are home to more than 160,000 immigrants. Between 2010 and 2016, Iowa’s foreign-born population grew by more than 15 percent. According to the New American Economy, “This helped Iowa stave off the sort of sluggish population growth that has hurt so many other areas in recent decades, depriving communities of needed workers and taxpayers. Iowa’s largely working-age immigrants serve as everything from meatpacking workers to college professors, making them critical contributors to Iowa’s economic success overall.”
  • Iowa immigrants are far more likely to be of working age than the US-born population (84.5% between the ages of 16-64, compared to 61.9% native-born).
  • Many non-citizens are eligible to receive legal status, but they often don’t have access to legal assistance or screening resources to seek relief.
  • Occupations with the highest share of foreign-born workers in Iowa are: post-secondary teachers (21%), agricultural workers (17%), construction laborers (15%), cooks (14%) and electricians (13%). Businesses, workers, and customers all benefit from these relationships.
  • The U.S. detains about 400,000 people each year, more than double the number detained in 2004.
  • Since Oct. 1, 2017, Iowa has resettled only 250 refugees.
  • More than eight million people living in the United States are eligible to become US citizens; only about eight percent of them seek citizenship each year.
  • Immigrants are frequently detained for an indeterminate time due to a backlog in the judicial system. This is destructive to family life, creates a cynicism toward American institutions, and denies basic human dignity to migrants.