The ACLU of Iowa is committed to making sure that all people—regardless of race, ethnicity, country of origin, or immigration status—are treated fairly under the law.

Awarded an Iowa Dreamer for his work in the community

David F. Peña Medina, a Des Moines Public Schools student, was the winner of the 2020 Robert Mannheimer Youth Advocacy Award. We honored David for his work in founding Los Busca Metas, or The Goal Seekers, a group and safe space for undocumented students at his school.

Took action to protect workers, especially those in meatpacking plants, during the COVID-19 pandemic

Along with seven other labor and civil rights groups, we filed a federal complaint against Iowa OSHA for failing to protect workers from life-threatening working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers were dying, and the agency was doing very little to prevent that.

We represented workers in meatpacking, the dairy industry, construction, transportation, health care facilities, nursing homes, and other industries.

Urged ICE to release detained immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic

Social distancing in Iowa’s overcrowded jails and prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic was nearly impossible for inmates. We were among three dozen legal and advocacy organizations, attorneys, and law firms that asked ICE to release some detained people and to refrain from detaining others. 

Spoke up about the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on people of color, including many immigrants

We drew attention to the fact that Asian, Black, and Latinx Iowans were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Latinx, African, and Asian immigrants and refugees were often essential workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, like meatpacking and ag processing plants, grocery stores, warehouses, and health care facilities.

Protested to keep families together

We stood up against the Trump administration’s cruel policy of separating families at the border in 2018. The national ACLU also filed the first lawsuit against the practice.

Opposed E-Verify

We spoke out against Iowa lawmakers in 2019 who wanted to require Iowa employers to use E-Verify, the federal government’s Internet-based system that attempts to verify the work eligibility of individuals. E-Verify is error-prone, expensive, and invasive. 

Opposed SF 481, a so-called "anti-sanctuary cities" bill signed by Gov. Reynolds

We spoke out in 2018 when Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law SF 481, which requires local law enforcement to "comply with any instruction" made in a detainer request to hold people without a warrant or probable cause of crime, in violation of the constitution. And if local law enforcement doesn't, they could lose all state funding.

Opposed President Trump’s decision to end DACA

In 2017, President Trump terminated the DACA program. We opposed the cruel move that would impact thousands of Iowans.

Sued about the implementation of President Trump’s Muslim ban

In 2017, we filed a FOIA lawsuit demanding government documents about the on-the-ground implementation of President Trump’s Muslim bans. We saw a number of families and individuals from Iowa whose lives were upended because of the profoundly un-American bans.

Successfully stopped the illegal prosecution of a Dreamer

In 2017, we secured an immigrants’ rights win at the Iowa Supreme Court in State v. Martinez. Martha Martinez was an Iowa Dreamer brought to the U.S. to live in Iowa when she was just 11. She came out of the shadows as an adult with four U.S. citizen children to try to obtain legal authorization. But when she did that, in a terrible bait and switch, a local county prosecutor tried to take everything away. The Iowa Supreme Court issued a sounding rebuke to the Muscatine County Attorney for illegally prosecuting a Dreamer for her employment in conflict with federal law.

Confirmed that 26 Iowa jails would rightfully not comply with ICE detainer requests

In 2014, 26 Iowa county jails told us that they would not hold people at the request of ICE simply because they were suspected of not having proper immigration authorization.

Detainer requests ask county jails to hold people—without a warrant or probable cause of crime—longer than already authorized, in violation of the constitution, so that ICE can further determine their immigration status and possibly take the person into federal custody. Too often, people—including some American citizens—are wrongly held in jail. Being held in jail not only is expensive, but can cost you your job, custody of your children, and more. 

Supported access to bail for immigrants

In 2013, with the national ACLU Immigrants Rights Project, we filed an amicus brief in United States v. Millan-Vasquez, a successful case before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in which we challenged the denial of bail to an immigrant based on the presence of an ICE detainer or previous order of deportation alone. After the case was remanded, the district court released Millan-Vasquez on bail.

Fought against a discriminatory voter purge

Along with Iowa LULAC, we filed a lawsuit to stop the Secretary of State from undertaking an unreliable process to remove registered voters if they could not prove their U.S. citizenship within a limited time.