The heat index hovered near 100 degrees, and the most direct routes were blocked by the Iowa City Jazz Festival and the Iowa City Farmers Market, but that didn’t stop an enthusiastic crowd of hundreds from marching to College Green Park from the terrace of the Old State Capitol on Saturday morning for Iowa City’s Families Belong Together rally. It was one of over 700 such rallies held around the county on June 30.
The original focus of the rallies was President Trump’s policy of separating families detained at the U.S. border with Mexico, and interning the children by themselves in makeshift facilities, sometimes thousands of miles away from their parents.
“ICE orphans and kids in cages. Are you kidding me?” said Jesse Case of Teamster Local 238, one of the rally’s speakers. “That is bullshit. These are not policies. These are human rights violations.”
But the focus of the rally broadened since it was first planned, to take in all of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, and the increasingly aggressive actions of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). And several speakers warned the crowd that families are not just being separated at the border.
“On May 9, ICE came to Mount Pleasant. They came to separate families,” said Tammy Shull of Mount Pleasant’s IowaWINs. “They came to take hardworking men away from their work, and to frighten children at school. To make a statement that immigrants are not welcome in Iowa.”
On the morning of May 9, ICE raided Midwest Precast Concrete in Mount Pleasant arresting 32 immigrants.
“But they weren’t counting on us. They weren’t counting on community. They weren’t counting on Iowa values,” Shull said.
Shull is a founding member of IowaWINs, which stands for Iowa Welcomes Immigrant Neighbors. IowaWINs grew out of a women’s book club at a First Presbyterian Church of Mount Pleasant, Shull told the crowd at College Green. In 2015, members of the club wanted to sponsor a refugee family fleeing the war in Syria, but were told that refugees were not being resettled in small towns like theirs.
“So, we widen our scope. We decided, ‘What else can we do?’” Shull said.
The group started making connections with the immigrant communities already in the area—getting to know the issues that affect them—and with statewide organizations that help immigrants.
When the ICE raid happened on May 9, IowaWINs was ready to act.
A support meeting for the area’s immigrant families was convened at the First Presbyterian Church. Attorneys who specialize in immigration law were contacted. A food bank and a fund to cover to rent and other necessities were set up to provide for families who lost someone supporting them in the raid. Counselors were brought in to help families cope with the shock and grief of separation.
“My advice [to people concerned about ICE’s actions in their communities] is to start building relationships now,” Shull said. “Build relationships in your community with immigrants and with organizations across the state, who are working so hard to help immigrants.”
One of the most important organizations IowaWINs turned to in May was the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project (EICBP).
“They are amazing people,” Shull said.
Elizabeth Rook Panicucci, who founded EICBP with Natalia Espina and Julia Zalenski in Iowa City following Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 election, also spoke at the rally.
“We exist with a simple mission,” Rook Panicucci explained. “We provide bond, which is also known as bail money, to immigrants who are swept up in raids or who are otherwise found in detention areas in the eastern Iowa community.”
“This is a simple way to make a huge impact for our immigrant neighbors. If we post bond for an individual who’s not able to post bond for themselves, their chance of getting deported decreases by over 70 percent.”
“Not only that, it is literally reuniting families,” she continued. “If we’re not able to post bond, that person stays in the detention center until their case is adjudicated and ultimately, most likely, they are deported. If we post bond, they go home.”
Since it started in 2017, EICBP has bonded out 21 individuals, including 12 of the worker arrested by ICE in Mount Pleasant. The nonprofit relies on donations not just of money, but also time.
No matter where someone is arrested by ICE in Iowa or where that person is detained, the bond payment must be delivered by hand to the Department of Homeland Security’s regional office in Omaha, Nebraska. EICBP relies on volunteers to deliver checks covering bond to Omaha within 24 or 48 hours.
Rook Panicucci said EICBP is always looking for volunteers who can make those trips to Omaha.
“It’s a pretty radical thing to do,” she said. “You interact with ICE face-to-face.”
When Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig spoke, she told the rally attendees the county government should be doing more to stop anyone in Johnson County from having interactions with ICE.
According to Rettig, “The Johnson County Sherriff and County Attorney voluntarily changed the policies of this county to comply with ICE detention. To say I’m furious is an understatement.”
Rettig referenced the June 28 informal session of the Board of Supervisor, during which Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek and Assistant County Attorney Susan Nehring explained what steps the county is taking to make sure it is compliance with the so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ bill signed into law by Gov. Kim Reynolds in April. The law, which takes effect on July 1, requires municipalities to accept formal written requests from ICE to detain a person already in custody, until ICE can transfer that person into its custody. Also, it prohibits any municipality from having policies that discourage cooperation with ICE. A city or county found in violation of the law will lose all state funding.
The law was passed even though Gov. Reynolds and other supporters admitted there are no sanctuary cities in Iowa. The Republicans in the legislature who voted for the bill made little effort to hide the fact that it was aimed at potentially punishing Iowa City, and in February, Reynolds said in a campaign fundraising letter that she supported the bill as a way to “send a message to the far-left liberals in Des Moines and Iowa City.”
“One of the messages that [the new law] sent was the continuing of a theme promoting hostility to the immigrant community in our state,” Nehring told the supervisors during the June 28 meeting. But, she said, because of the somewhat clumsy way the law is constructed, it is hard to predict how it will be applied.
Nehring also stressed that the new law does nothing to overturn protections against racial, religious or ethnic profiling offered by the federal and state constitutions.
“Despite the obligations that are in [the new law], as a county, we need to do our very best to make sure that all of the constitutional protections that exist out there are being honored,” she said.
The sheriff’s office will have to comply with ICE requests to detain a person already in custody, if ICE submits the proper written form. As Rettig made clear at the meeting, she considers any detainer request short of a warrant signed by a judge, as would be required in non-immigration cases, to be an unconstitutional infringement of person’s liberty.
But the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department, just like every other local law enforcement agency covered by the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, already has to honor written detainer requests from ICE, it was explained during the meeting. In December, the Eighth Circuit ruled in the case of Mendoza v. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that such detainer requests are constitutional.
Rettig remains unpersuaded.
“Our law enforcement should not be doing one goddamn thing to help ICE,” she said. Retting concluded by saying, “The only thing that’s going to change this is voting. The only thing. We have to vote. We have to make sure every single person that’s eligible votes.”
Like most of the people before her, Raneem Hamad, one of the rally’s last speakers, discussed Trump’s immigration policies. But Hamad, a student at Columbia University, also spoke about her experience as young person who immigrated to the United States as a child and became a citizen.
Hamad’s family came to Iowa City from Sudan in 2009. As a high school student, she became active in community affairs, and helped found Student Against Hate and Discrimination, a coalition of student activists from Iowa City High School and Iowa City West High School.
Hamad said that when her parents came to Iowa City, they just knew they wanted their children to be able to “make it” in life, although they were never clear about just what that meant. Now, Hamad is attending an Ivy League university and her sister will be starting at New York University in the fall, and both have bright futures.
“I know that every other refugee or immigrant parent … is only seeking a similar future for their children, just like my parents,” Hamad said.
Saturday’s rally in College Green Park was organized by El Trueque Magazine in collaboration with Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, LULAC 308, Latinos for Washington, Inc., Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project and the Iowa City Democratic Socialists of America.