Community Trust: Immigration & Local Control

Our fight this week for what I have come to call “the Community Trust Resolution” met with a new and unexpected roadblock from the Iowa legislature, and some confusing signals from the Sheriff’s Office.  Some understood one set of positions from that office, others understood something different, and hopefully all this will be ironed out in a work session on Monday, allowing us to ratify the language at the formal meeting Tuesday evening.

The resolution voices the County’s support for “New Iowans” and seeks to allay some fears about how local law enforcement and all county government interacts with both residents and with federal authorities.

My pathway to my position of strong support for immigrants comes from the first principle of the faith in which I was raised, which speaks to “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”  It also comes from an unusual advantage I had as a kid.

I was raised in a household of considerable privilege, as I have discussed in this space before.  Among the advantages I had was a somewhat unusual one: The Columbus International Program.  The CIP works a little bit like an exchange student program, but instead of students it brings professionals to the US to work for a couple of months at a time.

Because of my parents’ involvement with CIP, we had a long string of houseguests staying with us for weeks or months.  One was Bavarian royalty.  Another went on to become the Senagalese Ambassador to the US.  Still another, from Mauretania, went on to a career with the World Bank. They came from Honduras and China and Italy and Ghana and Sri Lanka and the (then) USSR, among many others.  They were doctors and social workers and lawyers and engineers.  Over time my father came to refer to our house as the Ohio branch of the United Nations.

This experience, which lasted through nearly all my childhood, left me with a clearer understanding than many of my peers about the diversity of the world and why diversity is strength.  I also learned that cultural interactions build peace.

When I got older my privilege made it possible for me to travel.  I did not go anywhere particularly exotic, but international travel changes people.  As Mark Twain wrote in Innocents Abroad, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

It would appear, however, that Twain’s axiom is not universally true, as I assume many of the people in the current administration are very well traveled.  Nevertheless, they persist in demonizing people who come here from other lands, even though they come for the same reasons as Mr. Trump’s grandparents (and yours, and mine): Pursuit of a better life for themselves and their progeny.  Once upon a time, not so long ago, it was a point of pride among Americans that everyone wants to come here.  It was intrinsic to how we were (and yes, still are) already great.

My father was an attorney, and he was fond of the John Adams quotation that “we are a nation of laws and not of men.”  Our immigration laws are broken in this country.  Nearly everyone on every side of the issue acknowledges this.  Yet instead of blaming the broken law, instead of trying to fix the broken law, the president and his party prefer to demonize people.  The president launched his campaign with a sweeping generalization accusing them of “bringing crime, they’re bringing drugs, they’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”  It’s that “some, I assume” qualifier that really drives home the bigotry that underlies all he stands for.  And many in his party, including five-sixths of Iowa’s own congressional delegation and apparently all the Republicans in the state legislature, stand right there with him.

Here at home in Johnson County, we have a rich tapestry of diversity, thanks in part to the University, and in part to a wide range of immigrants.  Many of them are very scared right now, either because they do not have documentation or they do but fear being swept up in raids anyway.  They fear being separated from their parents or their children.  How the president can be proud of instilling fear in children is beyond me, but what’s not beyond me is the policies of the county.

I know that the Board of Supervisors is not empowered to “dictate policy” to the Sheriff’s Office.  We control their budget and negotiate the union contract, but the Sheriff sets policy and answers to the voters, not the Board.  This is why the resolution I have proposed (Draft version below) states clearly that “The Board supports the policy of the Sherriff’s Office,” that they will not participate in so-called “ICE raids,” nor hold people in detention for immigration officials to pick up.  These are both policies that the Sheriff himself has reiterated in the press and to many of us personally.  Additionally, my resolution states that county resources should not be used for participation in any immigration enforcement actions.

People in Johnson County need to know that they can safely interact with county government, regardless of anything, including national origin.  The state may continue to try to limit local authority, but for as long as I have a vote on this Board, we will stand with our neighbors.


The following is the current (as of 3/5/17) DRAFT of the Community Trust Resolution.  As I type it has not yet been ratified.  My hope is that this resolution, or language to the same or stronger effect, will be voted on and passed on Tuesday, 3/7/17, at the 5:30pm formal meeting. ~kmf


“Resolution Reaffirming the Public Safety Function of Johnson County Law Enforcement.”

WHEREAS, let it be known to those that reside in or visit our community that the Johnson County Board of Supervisors devotes resources to law enforcement for the purpose of assuring the safety of all persons; and

WHEREAS, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors wants to assure the citizens of the county that the power to regulate immigration is exclusive to the federal government and the enforcement of immigration law is a function of the federal government that currently resides with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the Department of Homeland Security; and

WHEREAS, no federal law compels local law enforcement to participate in the enforcement of federal immigration law and any such requirement would raise significant anti-commandeering issues under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States; and

WHEREAS, any perception thatcounty resources have been used in the enforcement of immigration law may undermine community relationships that have been built up over the years, and thereby could undermine current efforts to keep the community safe; and,

WHEREAS, it is essential to public safety that every person, regardless of immigration status, who is a victim of or a witness to a crime feels comfortable reporting crimes or aiding in the investigation of crimes.


1.     The Board supports the position of the Sheriff’s Office, to wit: “The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office-Jail will not maintain custody of a subject(s) requested for a hold/detainer placed by DHS ICE-IMMIGRATION DETAINER-NOTICE OF ACTION FORM.  The subject(s) currently on request for us to maintain custody will be released once the local/state/federal criminal charges are completed.  Jail staff will cooperate with DHS requests for information.”

2.     Further, the Board supports the position of the Sheriff’s Office that they will not undertake any law enforcement action for the purpose of detecting the presence of undocumented persons or devote any public resources to the enforcement of federal immigration law.

3.     It is the position of the Board of Supervisors that County resources should not be used to assist the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

4.     This resolution addresses the discretionary use of legal county resources and does not:

(i) Prohibit, or in any way restrict, any official or employee of Johnson County from sending to or receiving from ICE information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual (8 U.S. C. Section 1373);

(ii) Affect or limit the enforcement of federal immigration law by federal authorities within Johnson County;

(iii) Affect or limit ICE’s Priority Enforcement Program (f/k/a Secure Communities) whereby all fingerprints of adults arrested, or juveniles taken into custody, for a crime other than a simple misdemeanor are automatically included in the federal automated fingerprint identification system and cross checked against the ICE database, such that ICE is notified of that person’s arrest and detention in the jail; or

(iv) In any way condone, encourage or assist the violation of federal law which makes it a crime for any person to, “knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that an alien has come to, entered, or remains in the United States in violation of law, conceal, harbor, or shield from detection, such alien in any place, including any building or any means of transportation.” (8 U.S. C. Section 13 24).

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