Civil Rights Groups File Lawsuit to Block Iowa's Unconstitutional SF 2340

May 9, 2024
Last modified: 
May 9, 2024

Des Moines, Iowa, May 9, 2024 — Civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit today to block SF 2340, one of the worst, most far-reaching immigration laws ever passed in the state of Iowa.

This Iowa law conflicts with existing federal law and will have a number of dramatic consequences for Iowans. It creates new crimes for anyone in Iowa, including a child, who has reentered the country after being deported, even if that person is now authorized to be in the U.S.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa by the American Immigration Council, the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, and the national ACLU on behalf of Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice and the thousands of immigrants that the organization assists, including two individual Iowans.

(Download the complaint here)

"This ugly law is deeply harmful to Iowa families and communities. Iowa lawmakers knowingly targeted people who are protected by federal immigration laws and who are legally allowed to be here, like people granted asylum, or special visas given to survivors of domestic violence or other crimes," said ACLU of Iowa legal director Rita Bettis Austen.

"And there are lots of good reasons — related to foreign relations, national security, humanitarian interests, and our constitutional system — why the federal government enforces our immigration law, instead of all 50 states going out and doing their own thing to enforce their own separate immigration schemes. It’s hard to overstate how awful and bizarre this law is," Bettis Austen said.

What is SF 2340?

Iowa's SF 2340 is based largely on SB 4, the Texas immigration law that has received national attention and is for the moment blocked by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals as likely unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

SF 2340 turns current immigration law upside down and makes the challenges of enforcing current immigration law far worse. It conflicts with existing immigration laws by directing Iowa law enforcement to arrest immigrants who have authorization to be here. This includes people granted asylum; those who were given visas to protect victims of crime, trafficking, or domestic violence; and those who have one of the other dozens of authorized immigration statuses, including special protections for immigrant youth.

The new law even directs local law enforcement to arrest green card holders, who have lived here for years and have families here, like the individuals in the lawsuit, Jane Doe and Elizabeth Roe.*

Impact on Real People, Including Children

The lawsuit highlights 18-year-old Anna* (not her real name), who was born in Honduras, where her father was murdered and her sister was kidnapped. She was brought to the U.S. with her mother when she was 14 and then deported. Shortly after, still fearing for her life, she reentered the U.S. again, this time unaccompanied. She applied for and received asylum and is now here lawfully, living with an Iowa family and attending high school. But under SF 2340, she can be arrested and deported to the Mexican border, where she has no family or connection.

"Under SF 2340, even if a person now has lawful immigration status, they could be arrested and deported if they were previously deported or removed and reentered the country. It's a law that makes absolutely no sense and is clearly unconstitutional," said Kate Melloy Goettel, legal director at the American Immigration Council (pronounced MUH-loy GET-el).

"SF 2340 isn't just about so-called criminal reentry. It's a badly written law with far-reaching implications. It will create absolute chaos and human suffering in our legal system, and harm Iowa communities," said Melloy Goettel.

The lawsuit also includes an Iowa immigrant referred to as Jane Doe. A 68-year-old grandmother with health problems, she is currently a lawful permanent resident of the United States. A native of Mexico, she has lived in the U.S. for several years.

Jane originally came here without authorization to join her husband, who became a lawful permanent resident in the 1980s. Jane returned to Mexico in 2005 after her mother died, but when she tried to return, she was detained at the border. Because her husband was a citizen, he applied for her to lawfully return. However, the application wasn’t approved before his death. It wasn’t until 2022 that Jane was able to return to Iowa. Even though she holds a green card and is therefore authorized to be here, under SF 2340, she could be put in prison or deported. 

Multiple Problems with SF 2340

SF 2340 has far-reaching implications beyond simply criminalizing reentry into the United States:

• This new state law conflicts with existing federal law. As Anna and Jane Doe's examples demonstrate, even if someone is now here lawfully under federal law, if prior to that they reentered the country after having been denied admission or were previously deported, they could now be imprisoned and deported by the state of Iowa.

• 2340 dumps immigration law, which has been the responsibility of the federal government, at the feet of local law enforcement, who say they don't have the tools or training to carry it out fairly.

Law enforcement officials have said publicly that this law will hurt local public safety, rather than help it, because now immigrants will be afraid to talk to the police.

Michael Tupper, Marshalltown chief of police, says, "This law undermines local law enforcement's ability to work with their communities and will actually diminish public safety, not improve it. It will create fear in our community that will make people reluctant to talk to police and to report crimes.

"The law provides for no additional funding to local and state governments who are now directed by the state law to arrest, prosecute, deport, or incarcerate people. They say it will take their time and resources away from their key job: Keeping their local communities safe."

"This law tasks local and state police, prosecutors, and judges with the enforcement of immigration law despite them having no training and no tools to do so," said Bettis Austen.

• The law applies to minors as well. The new law includes mere children. It would, for example, apply to situations where someone was brought here as a baby or young child then ordered removed with their family. Now, the state of Iowa is directing law enforcement to arrest, prosecute, deport, or incarcerate children if they have reentered the country, even if they have the legal right to be here.  

"This law fails to protect children by providing for a person’s arrest, deportation, or incarceration, regardless of the fact that they may have entered or reentered the country without authorization because they were only a baby or a child when they were brought here," said Bettis Austen.

• It will fuel racial profiling. Law enforcement doesn't have access to the complex databases, training, or other resources to determine which of the many complex immigration statuses a person might have. 

"Local law enforcement simply doesn’t have a way to accurately determine somebody’s immigration status, which is likely to result in racial profiling that will harm immigrants and citizens alike," said Bettis Austen.

• This law will result in the separation of families. If this law is enforced, families will be torn apart. This includes even those families who have lived here for decades, with children who were born in Iowa. Even in cases where parents are authorized to be here, families will be separated as mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and grandparents are unconstitutionally deported. 

The lawsuit names Brenna Bird, the Iowa Attorney General, as a defendant. The lawsuit names the Clayton County Attorney and the Polk County Attorney as additional defendants because they are the county attorneys in the counties where plaintiffs reside. The county attorneys are being named in their official capacities only and not because they worked to pass SF 2340 into law. The law is not scheduled to take effect until July 1 and no prosecutions for violations of the new law have been brought in Iowa at this time.

Additional Quotes

Erica Johnson, founding executive director of Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice (Iowa MMJ).

"Supporters of this law say they passed it because they are tired of the way the federal government and the current administration is handling immigration enforcement. We can all agree that our immigration system needs improvement, but this law is no solution. Instead, it increases fear among Iowa’s immigrant communities and overwhelms local groups who are doing the real work of finding solutions and creating thriving communities.

"It's also an incredibly inhumane law that puts lives and families at risk. It takes people — including mere children — who have been living here peacefully and contributing to their communities, sometimes for decades, and sets them up for deportation. It doesn’t matter if they now have authorization to be here. They can still be put in prison or deported at the border, often thousands of miles away from their home country.

"We need laws that create workable, orderly, humane immigration systems. SF 2340 does just the opposite."

Wafa Junaid, a Skadden fellow with the national ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project

"This extreme law will have devastating consequences for Iowa communities. It will disproportionately put Brown and Black neighbors and community members in harm’s way regardless of their immigration status, strain local resources, and strip people of their constitutional right to due process. As a federal court has already held, Texas got it wrong with SB 4, and Iowa should reject similar efforts to divide their communities."

Maria Corona, executive director of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence

"Law enforcement depends on community cooperation to maintain public safety because it is hard to prevent violence if people are afraid to call police for help. This law increases danger for immigrant victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking by doing exactly that, it will actively discourage victims from calling police for help.

"This law thwarts victims’ access to federal law protections from violence, which were enacted decades ago to protect victims from abusive partners who routinely use their immigration status to harm them. It also undermines years of efforts from Iowa law enforcement to build trusting relationships with immigrant communities more broadly and dedicated statewide efforts to fully support victims of domestic and sexual violence.

"This law not only deters immigrant victims of intimate partner violence from calling police, but it penalizes victims already working with law enforcement to improve public safety by putting them at risk for arrest, deportation, or incarceration. Discouraging domestic violence victims from calling police when they are in danger puts individuals at greater risk, undermines public safety, and threatens the well-being of communities across Iowa."

*Legal note: Anna is a member of Iowa MMJ but not an individually named plaintiff. The three plaintiffs in the lawsuit are:

  1. Iowa MMJ, which is filing on behalf of itself and its many members, including Anna
  2. Jane Doe, filing in her individual capacity and also a member of Iowa MMJ
  3. Elizabeth Roe, a 40-year-old from Colombia, filing in her individual capacity and also a member of Iowa MMJ.

About the American Immigration Council

The American Immigration Council works to strengthen America by shaping how America thinks about and acts towards immigrants and immigration and by working toward a more fair and just immigration system that opens its doors to those in need of protection and unleashes the energy and skills that immigrants bring. The Council brings together problem solvers and employs four coordinated approaches to advance change—litigation, research, legislative and administrative advocacy, and communications. In January 2022, the Council and New American Economy merged to combine a broad suite of advocacy tools to better expand and protect the rights of immigrants, more fully ensure immigrants’ ability to succeed economically, and help make the communities they settle in more welcoming. Follow the latest Council news and information on and Twitter @immcouncil. 


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Elyssa Pachico
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