25 'sanctuary' counties protect immigrants in Iowa

Published: May. 30, 2017 at 11:03 PM CDT
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A debate over sanctuary cities in Texas developed into shoving, name-calling, and even threatening on the house floor, as demonstrators filled the State Capitol to protest a new law that forces state authorities to enforce federal immigration law.

The fight has reignited tensions as the country continues its decades-long debate over immigration, under a new President, who's already tried to cut off federal funding for cities who don't follow federal immigration law.

While there are no recognized ‘sanctuary cities’ in South Dakota, there are many ‘sanctuary counties’ in the state of Iowa, which Donald Trump carried during the 2016 election.

Sioux County is among the 25 counties that refuse to honor an Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s request for detainer without the order of a judge.

Sioux County officials say they don't honor ICE requests to detain suspects accused of being illegal immigrants because they believe it's a violation of due process and not doing so protects them from potential lawsuits.

The Sioux County attorney says holding a person for an ICE request for detainer isn't legal.

“You can only hold people for several reasons, if they have probable cause, that a state crime has been committed, if they have probable cause that that some other crime has been committed, or if a federal judge has signed a warrant saying you need to hold this person,” county attorney Thomas Kunstle said.

Which doesn’t include a request from a federal agency.

“I feel as though our rights are derived from our humanity and we can't violate those,” Kunstle stated.

He says the county began this policy in 2014.

“A federal judge ruled in Oregon that a county was liable for abiding by an ICE detainer request. So, after that, that's why all these 25 counties, and counties across the United States, decided or took a second look at whether or not they are going to hold people,” he explained.

While the county may show up on a map of ‘sanctuary counties’ across the country, Kunstle doesn't think the county belongs on the list.

“I don’t think it's accurate. Seattle or San Francisco have policies that prohibit police officers from inquiring into someone's work status, we don’t have that,” he pointed out.

In fact, the county works with ICE.

“The one thing we don’t do is abide by ICE detainer requests,” Kunstle said.

But a church in Orange City is looking to provide sanctuary to those who might be here illegally

“I’m working very closely on that issue. My own church is exploring the possibility of becoming a sanctuary church,” Harold Heie said.

Heie is the co-director of CASA of Sioux County. He says helping immigrants is part of his faith.

“I’m a confessing Christian and I think Christians are called to welcome the stranger, and I think that our immigrant neighbors are strangers in our midst,” Heie said.

He says one way to welcome them is by protecting immigrants' rights.

“The way I envision sanctuary churches is, it buys time for the legal procedure to work its way out,” he explained.

Heie's church has been exploring the idea to create a sanctuary church for several months and he says they could reach a decision as early as this Fall.

Kunstle says the county frequently investigates residents' immigration status due to a high volume of identity theft cases in the area.

He says in the past three years, he has prosecuted 70 cases where an undocumented immigrant stole someone's identity to get a job.

During the 2016 legislative session, SBS1172 was brought forward. It was very similar to the law being protested in Texas, which would require police chiefs and sheriff to honor detainer requests from ICE. The bill didn't get enough support to pass.

KSFY News reached out to several lawmakers to talk about the future of immigration issues in the state, but our calls were not returned.