image
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office is being sued by the Indiana Attorney General under the state’s amended sanctuary cities law. (Photo/Pexels.com)

By Marilyn Odendahl
The Indiana Citizen
July 10, 2024

Making good on his threat, Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has filed a lawsuit against the city of East Chicago Common Council for failing to rescind its welcoming ordinance.

The lawsuit, – State of Indiana ex rel. Todd Rokita, Attorney General of Indiana, v. City of East Chicago Common Council – which was filed in Lake County on Tuesday, asserted the council is violating state law that prohibits sanctuary cities. In May, Rokita sent letters to four municipalities, including East Chicago, demanding they revoke, by July 1, the ordinances or policies that the attorney general determined restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

In a statement, Rokita claimed East Chicago is “giving safe harbor to illegal aliens” in violation of federal and state law. He linked the lawsuit to the amended state statute that became effective on the first of July and gave the attorney general the power to enforce Indiana’s prohibition against sanctuary cities

“We have a new statute that supports the rule of law thanks to the leadership of the General Assembly and I intend to enforce it because illegal immigration is unfair to the good people of this state and those who worked hard to enter our country legally,” Rokita said in a statement.

The attorney general is asking the trial court to enjoin the East Chicago Common Council from violating the state’s sanctuary cities law.

East Chicago Mayor Anthony Copeland and his chief of staff Sandra Favela did not respond to messages requesting comment. Also, Indiana Rep. Earl Harris Jr., D-East Chicago, was not available to speak on this issue.

The Indiana General Assembly amended the law banning sanctuary cities during the 2024 session. Indiana Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, offered the amendment in response to the Indiana Supreme Court’s ruling which found that the private citizens who challenged the city of Gary’s welcoming ordinance in 2017 did not have standing to sue. The plaintiffs, the Supreme Court ruled, failed to show they had suffered any injury from the ordinance.

Under Koch’s amendment to Indiana Codes 5-2-18.2-5 and -6, the attorney general now has standing to compel local governments and postsecondary educational institutions to comply with the ban on sanctuary city policies.

Rokita indicated he may continue to exercise his new enforcement powers against other municipalities.

“As we continue to evaluate other local governments, this may not be the last lawsuit we file on this issue,” Rokita said in his statement. “Stay tuned.”

Even before the amended law became effective, Rokita also had sent letters to the city of Gary, the Monroe County Sheriff’s office and the West Lafayette Police Department, along with the city of East Chicago, warning them that they could face litigation over their ordinances and policies.

Only West Lafayette appears to have altered its police policy in response to the attorney general’s letter. That policy’s new provision reverses a former mandate by now requiring individuals to be held if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement issues an immigration detainer.

Speaking before the lawsuit against East Chicago was filed, Bloomington immigration attorney Christie Popp said the ordinances and policies that Rokita is challenging are meant to create an atmosphere where people feel safe. Immigrants who have been victimized by crime, she said, can be hesitant in contacting the police, particularly in a domestic violence situation, to avoid deportation of a family member.

“I think these policies … encourage people to report crimes, which, I think, is something we all want to happen,” Popp said.

East Chicago’s Ordinance 17-0010 states it is intended to “recognize the present and historic importance of immigrants” in the community and ensure the safety of all residents by enabling immigrants to report crimes regardless of their immigration status. In part, the ordinance bans the withholding of any municipal benefits, services or opportunities on the basis of citizenship or immigration status, unless required by state or federal law.

However, the attorney general’s lawsuit focuses on the section of the ordinance that covers interactions with federal agents and agencies. The complaint asserted provisions in the ordinance “prohibit or limit voluntary cooperation by East Chicago agents and agencies with federal officials in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.”

Specifically, Rokita’s lawsuit stated the ordinance prohibits local authorities from continuing to detain anyone solely on the basis of an immigration detainer or administrative warrant, and bars East Chicago from entering into agreements with the federal government to assist with enforcement of federal civil immigration laws. Also, the ordinance restricts local officials from cooperating with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, unless presented with a criminal warrant, according to the lawsuit.

“By passing and maintaining Ordinance 17-0010 the City of East Chicago Common Council injures the State of Indiana by violating the sovereignty of the State,” the lawsuit stated.

Dwight Adams, a freelance editor and writer based in Indianapolis, edited this article. He is a former content editor, copy editor and digital producer at The Indianapolis Star and IndyStar.com, and worked as a planner for other newspapers, including the Louisville Courier Journal.

The Indiana Citizen is a nonpartisan, nonprofit platform dedicated to increasing the number of informed and engaged Hoosier citizens. We are operated by the Indiana Citizen Education Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) public charity. For questions about the story, contact Marilyn Odendahl at marilyn.odendahl@indianacitizen.org. 

Related Posts