Gov. Reynolds signs so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ bill, which she said was aimed at ‘far-left liberals in Des Moines and Iowa City’

Gov. Kim Reynolds — photo courtesy of the Office of the Governor of Iowa

On Tuesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds signed SF 481, the so-called “sanctuary cities bill,” into law. Reynolds didn’t issue a statement — the reference to SF 481 was buried in a press release announcing the governor signed 17 bills on April 10 — but two months ago, she hailed the bill as a way to “send a message to the far-left liberals in Des Moines and Iowa City.”

That statement came in a fundraising letter from Reynolds’ gubernatorial campaign, attempting to use misplaced fears about sanctuary cities — which even proponents of the bill admit don’t exist in Iowa — to pry open the wallets of Iowans.

Bleeding Heartland posted a copy of the letter in February.

I remain strongly opposed to any city or community in Iowa becoming a sanctuary for illegal immigrants who have broken the law.

Right now, our state’s legislature is debating this important issue, and I want to know where you stand: Do you stand with me and oppose sanctuary cities?

By sending in $10, $15, or $25 today, you can send a message to far-left liberals in Des Moines and Iowa City on this important issue.

Under SF 481, anyone can file a complaint that a municipality is failing to fully cooperate with federal immigration agents. Either the Iowa Attorney General’s office or a county attorney’s office would then have to investigate the complaint. If it is determined that the city isn’t complying with the law — which forbids cities from adopting any policy that discourages local police from cooperating with federal immigration agents, and requires police departments to detain people at the request of those agents, even if the person isn’t charged with a crime — the city will lose all state funds until a district court judge determines the city is in compliance.

According an analysis by the Legislative Services Agency:

The denial of State funding based upon a valid finding of a violation… would potentially impact a wide range of State funding, which includes: Road Use Tax Fund allocations, grants, and reimbursements; State property tax replacements, tuition replacement, flood mitigation projects, community college funding, grants made by the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and many other areas.

Reynolds wasn’t the only Republican who made it clear this bill was aimed at Iowa City. During debate in the Iowa House, Rep. Steve Holt of Dennison, who was the bill’s floor manager, said it was needed because Iowa City is “in defiance of the rule of law.” Holt appeared to be referring to a resolution passed by the Iowa City Council in January 2017, three days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president. The resolution stated the Iowa City Police Department did not have to assist federal agents enforce immigration law, except in cases involving public safety.

Traditionally, enforcement of immigration law has been solely the responsibility of federal officials.

“We intend to keep [Iowa City] a safe and welcoming place for all its residents and visitors,” Mayor Jim Throgmorton said when the Iowa City Council passed the resolution. “If undocumented residents fear they will be deported simply for being undocumented, they will avoid reporting to the police crimes they witness or have committed against them.”

That was also the position of most local law enforcement officials across the state. And it was a point that Marlu Abarca, a member of Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs, made to the governor with a very personal story.

On Thursday, Abraca sent a letter to Reynolds on behalf of the commission, which was created in 1974 to advise governors on the needs and condition of the state’s Latino population, “to implore [the governor] to VETO SF481.”

“The Iowa Commission of Latino Affairs is concerned that police assistance with federal enforcement efforts would prevent Latinos from reporting crimes, cooperating with police, or seeking police protection,” Abraca wrote. “SF481 would break down the confidence and trust between law enforcement and the diverse communities they serve and protect.”

Abraca shared the story of her own mother, who, prior to becoming a naturalized citizen was raped, but was unsure what her rights were and was afraid to go to the police.


Subscribe for daily news updates from Little Village


“Because of her fear, and the fear of her coworkers of coming forward about these crimes — for fear of being separated from their families — my mother will never receive justice,” Abraca told the governor.

She concluded the letter: “SF 481 does not reflect the values of Iowans; this is not the Iowa that we want, and it is not the Iowa that our children deserve.”

SF 481 passed both the Iowa House and Senate with only Republicans voting in favor of it. No law enforcement group spoke out in favor of SF 481, and the Iowa Police Chiefs Association officially opposed the bill, as did the Iowa attorney general and the Iowa County Attorneys Association.

The only group to register with the state legislature as being in favor of the bill was the Iowa Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, which was described as a “nativist extremist” group in a 2015 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Thoughts? Tips? A cute picture of a dog? Share them with LV »



Summer Programs 2020

Get 150+ local restaurants delivered to your door in the Iowa City & Cedar Rapids areas!

Don’t let other people’s opinions win.

Vote for your favorite people, places and events in the Iowa City-Cedar Rapids area! In a time when local businesses need our support more than ever, your vote will send a little love to the places that make our community special. And don’t forget to tell us why—the best comments will be published in our December Best of the CRANDIC 2021 issue! Voting ends September 30.

Read the Best of the CRANDIC issue, on stands now

The Future is Unwritten

You look to Little Village for today’s stories. Your sustaining support will help us write tomorrow’s.


$10/mo or $120/year
The cost of doing this work really adds up! Your contribution at this level will cover telephone and internet expenses for one month at the LV editorial offices.


$20/mo or $240/year
$240 is enough to cover one month’s costs for sending out our weekly entertainment newsletter, The Weekender. Make a contribution at this level to put a little more oomph on your support and your weekend.


$30/mo or $360/year
(AUTO-RENEW) connects eastern Iowa culture with the world. Your contribution at this level will cover the site’s hosting costs for three months. A bold move for our boldest supporters!

All monthly and annual contributors receive:

  • Recognition on our Supporters page (aliases welcome)
  • Exclusive early access when we release new half-price gift cards
  • Access to a secret Facebook group where you can connect with other supporters and discuss the latest news and upcoming events (and maybe swap pet pics?) with the LV staff
  • Invitations to periodic publisher chats (held virtually for now) to meet with Matt and give him a piece of your mind, ask your burning questions and hear more about the future plans for Little Village, Bread & Butter Magazine, Witching Hour Festival and our other endeavors.