“Sanctuary Cities,” Legalistic Minutiae, and Johnson County Policy

This will be another of those posts where I wade into the weeds of an issue, try to decipher the details and explain in plain English – sadly the only language I speak, though I can translate Legalese pretty well.  I do these posts a lot just to help me wrap my own brain around such matters, and hope that sometimes it may help others as well.  If you are confident in your understanding of the nuances of SF481 (which will be Iowa State Code Chapter 825 beginning July 1st), commonly referred to as “The Sanctuary Cities bill,” and its application in Johnson County, then please skip to “What We Can Do” at the end.  For the rest, let’s dive in.

First the broad strokes:

SF481 was signed into law on April 10th.  What most people seem to think it does is require full cooperation by local authorities in supporting federal immigration raids and enforcement.  That is not what it does.  However it does do some pretty bad stuff, and it also, interestingly, has some pretty good non-discrimination stuff sprinkled in.

You will recall that last year I put forth a resolution, which in the end became a joint statement to the effect that Johnson County “will not honor voluntary detainer requests nor will the Sheriff’s office assist [ICE] in immigration enforcement raids.”  Part of that remains true under the new law, and part of it does not.  The details get pretty thorny.

The Board of Supervisors was presented yesterday with an overview of the new law by Assistant County Attorney Susan Nehring.  She was flanked by Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek and County Attorney Janet Lyness.  Ms. Nehring used a Powerpoint to explain the law, her research, and the position that has been taken by the County Attorney and Sheriff.  You can access a pdf version here.

We were first presented with an overview of the law, and that is where we – or I, at least – learned of the anti-discrimination language, which has two parts to it.  It says that a local entity like Johnson County (or their employees) shall not consider race, skin color, language spoken, or national origin while enforcing immigration laws except to the extent permitted by the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State of Iowa.  The part after “except” does make me a little nervous, as it is subject to the interpretation of our increasingly rightward-leaning courts.

The second (and I think better) part says that a local entity – in our case meaning the Sheriff’s office or the County Attorney’s office – shall not ask for or collect any information from a victim of or a witness to an alleged public offense, including the victim’s, witness’s, or person’s national origin, that is not pertinent to the investigation of the alleged public offense.  This part is important and addresses what had been one of my biggest concerns when I proposed the Community Trust Resolution last year: namely that all residents need to feel safe in interacting with local law enforcement and other first responders.  I hope this helps with that, at least a little.

About the “ICE Raids”

The Johnson County Sherriff’s Office does not have the power to prevent such activities by federal authorities.  At the same time though, they also do not have the proper authority and training to participate in them, either.  There is a thing called the 287(g) program, which provides a statutory basis for U.S. Attorney General to “deputize” local law enforcement to actively enforce federal immigration laws.  President Trump signed an executive order calling for the expansion of the program.  However local law enforcement must proactively enroll in the program and receive training, and Johnson County has not and will not do so.

As Sheriff Pulkrabek put it, he has way too much to do as it is.

What could happen though, if it were requested, is assistance from local authorities to federal authorities in the form of, for example, crowd safety and traffic control at an ICE “raid.”  I can understand the need for safety, but the optics will be bad, and if it were to come to pass I can virtually guarantee images in the media that include local officers and cruisers, thus giving the impression of full participation, which will have the effect of eroding community trust as discussed in my resolution from last year.

About the Detainer “Requests”

Now here’s where we get into some pretty nuanced language, the kind that makes lawyers and non-lawyers disagree.  The aforementioned joint statement referred to county policy that the Sheriff’s office would not comply with “voluntary detainer requests.”  What this meant, in essence, was that if they were holding a person in the jail for, let’s say, public intoxication, and it was time to release that person, they would not hold on to him just because someone from ICE called them up and asked them to.  This was because it was unconstitutional – and remains so – to hold a person without a warrant.  And a phone call, email or letter from an ICE agent is not a warrant signed by a judge.

The new state law, Chapter 825, changes that, but not completely.  It is still true that a simple phone call won’t cut it.  But what it does say is that law enforcement must comply with federal immigration detainer requests, for up to 48 hours, for persons in custody that are accompanied by proper documentation which includes a statement of probable cause.  As my colleague Ms. Green-Douglass is fond of saying, “Therein squats the toad.”

To me, and probably to you, “proper documentation which includes a statement of probable cause” may very well be a perfectly truthful document (or maybe not), but it is not a warrant.  To the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, though, it is sufficient.  That is the federal court that oversees our region of the US on judicial matters – a seven-state region that includes Iowa.  They ruled last year that such documentation was constitutionally adequate.  They have the authority to make such decisions, but that doesn’t make it right.  A statement of probable cause is not and never has been a warrant.  It is what you present to a judge in order to get a warrant.

Nevertheless, at present it is the law.  Neither Sheriff Pulkrabek nor his eventual successors are going to defy the law, so we need to change the law.  I would love to fight it in court but given the current (and likely foreseeable future) makeup of the Supreme Court, I do not like our chances, to say the least.

What We Can Do

A far more likely scenario, though by no means an easy one, is to flip the legislature and Terrace Hill into Democratic control.  While winning back the state senate might be too heavy a lift in one election, we can get the house and the governor’s mansion in November.  Doing so will require what local Senate nominee Zach Wahls has been calling an “All hands on deck moment.”

Johnson County is about as solidly Democratic as Idaho is Republican, so nearly all our seats are and will remain in the “blue” column.  But there is still a way JoCo residents can help change Chapter 825 and many other egregious laws passed in the last two years.

Jump in and help out in other districts.  The organized effort to do this is called “FlipIt Iowa.”  Read about it here, then follow it on Facebook and Twitter and get involved.  If you have money, give money.  If you have time, give time.  If you have both, give both.  Then drag everyone you know to the polls in November and vote like your future depends on it (Hint: it does).

And one last, more immediate note:

There is a march and rally for “Families Belong Together,” tomorrow, Saturday 6/30.  It starts at 10am on the west side of the Old Capitol, then marches to College Green Park for a Rally at 11am.  Marches like this are all over the country against the illegal and immoral immigration policies of our federal government.  There’s also an organized letter-writing campaign at the IC library at noon.  Please get involved.

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