People stopped by law enforcement officers in Iowa should have to prove their citizenship status, Terry Branstad said here Wednesday.
The Republican candidate for governor also would require passengers to prove their citizenship should law officers suspect illegal activity.
"When people are stopped for a criminal violation or traffic violation, if they cannot show they are here legally, they ought to be detained and turned over to the federal government for deportation," Branstad said.
Enforcement of immigration laws has become a flashpoint issue nationally following Arizona's enactment of a law extending immigration enforcement authority to local and state law officers.
Branstad's statements sparked intense reaction on Wednesday.
Ben Stone, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said: "Such a requirement not only raises questions of whether it could be applied equally to persons of all races and nationalities, but it also creates the prospect of forcing officers to spend too much of their precious time dealing with issues of the residency on every person they stop."
The federal government has sued to block the Arizona law, saying the federal government has sole responsibility for immigration.
Because the federal government has traditionally enforced immigration and deportation, states have had few options to deal with violators other than to notify federal officials of alleged problems.
Iowa does not have a law requiring law officers to conduct citizenship checks, and even if it did, officers do not routinely have access to a federal database for conducting such checks, said Jessica Lown, an Iowa Department of Public Safety spokeswoman.
Law enforcement officers often contact federal officials when they become aware a person is in the country without citizenship or legal authorization, Lown said.
However, law officers and other state officials have said that federal officials frequently ignore such calls unless the person has committed a heinous crime or the case involves unusual circumstances.
Officials prioritize potential immigration violations, said Greg Palmore, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He declined to discuss whether Branstad's idea was workable and said it would be inappropriate to get into the politics of the issue.
"There is access to ICE 24 hours a day," Palmore said in response to questions about the agency's ability to adequately enforce immigration laws. "We have fantastic relationships with all law enforcement."
The Arizona law closely mirrors federal immigration law but makes it a state crime to be in Arizona illegally. The law gives Arizona police with "reasonable suspicion" unprecedented authority to demand documentation of a person's legal status.
Some Iowa law enforcement agencies have expressed opposition to following Arizona's lead. Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy, for example, told county supervisors in May that detaining an illegal immigrant would cost Polk County taxpayers $95 a day.
"It's all well and good to demagogue the issue, but there's a reality to it," McCarthy said.
Branstad has previously said state lawmakers should work with local law enforcement to fashion an immigration law that meets Iowa's needs, particularly if the federal government continues to fail to enforce current laws.
He did not specifically endorse Arizona's actions Wednesday.
Gov. Chet Culver, a Democrat and Branstad's opponent in the November general election, said Branstad's idea would create a drain on Iowa taxpayers.
Culver has previously said that the federal government must take the lead on immigration.
"As Branstad should know, the governor of Iowa has no ability to command that the federal government, whose jurisdiction this falls under, to reimburse local governments across Iowa," said Ali Glisson, a spokeswoman for Culver. "For Iowans, it's just a shift from one tax to another if Terry Branstad were elected."
Branstad acknowledged the possible costs, telling people at his campaign events Wednesday that he does not want Iowans left paying the bill.
"I think the challenge is getting the federal government to fulfill their end of the deal," Branstad told about 25 people at the Lied Public Library in Clarinda. "I don't want the local property taxpayers to have to pay for them to be in a county jail for month after month after month."
The proof of citizenship would likely be in the form of a valid driver's license linked with a system that offers quick citizenship search information for law enforcement. A birth certificate or some other standard form of identification such as a green card could also be used to show proof, Branstad said.
Des Moines police do not normally check a person's immigration status when they make a traffic stop, said Chief Judy Bradshaw. If police make an arrest and local officials discover a person is in the United States illegally, they contact federal officials, she said.
"Only federal agents of Immigration and Custom Enforcement have the authority to question a person about their immigration status," Bradshaw said. "There are no local or state laws covering immigration status."
Democrats and Republicans in the Iowa Legislature have struggled with immigration reform. In 2008, legislation was introduced, but not passed, that would have required employers to verify the identity of each new worker within 10 days. Documents to prove citizenship would have included a state-issued license or identification. Employers could have faced charges for violations.
The 2008 proposal was a compromise from a similar proposal by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, D-Des Moines. His original version would have held business executives criminally liable on immigration charges instead of perjury.
McCarthy, the son of the sheriff, said the state ID plan was drafted to avoid possible constitutional challenges to the proposal. It is possible that the U.S. Supreme Court could determine that the state is unable to pursue prosecution of business executives for violation of immigration laws, he said.