Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita Sues East Chicago Over Sanctuary City Ordinance, Claims Violation of State and Federal Immigration Laws

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has initiated legal action against the East Chicago Common Council, asserting a failure to comply with federal immigration regulations. The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, marks the first instance Rokita has targeted any of the four entities he warned in May, including Gary, West Lafayette, and Monroe County, after they were asked to rescind local immigration ordinances or face litigation.

The legal challenge arose from a 2017 ordinance passed by the East Chicago Common Council, which Rokita claims obstructs local officials from cooperating fully with federal immigration authorities. Stating that local leaders in East Chicago are operating their jurisdiction as a sanctuary city, Rokita indicated that this could be the beginning of multiple lawsuits regarding such issues statewide.

According to the lawsuit, the disputed ordinance restricts city officials from inquiring about an individual’s citizenship or immigration status, or assisting in immigration enforcement unless presented with a criminal warrant. This includes barring local officials from transferring individuals to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, permitting ICE agents to use city facilities or equipment, or sharing information absent a warrant.

Rokita’s suit claims that such policies directly conflict with Indiana Code, which prohibits any state or local governmental entity from enacting regulations that limit or restrict cooperation with federal immigration enforcement to less than the full extent permitted by law.

The legal basis for Rokita’s action derives from recent state legislation. Senate Bill 181, which took effect July 1, empowers the Attorney General to sue governmental bodies and educational institutions that do not comply with federal immigration laws.

The enforcement of this bill reflects an ongoing national debate over the role of local jurisdictions in federal immigration enforcement, which has seen varying interpretations and legal challenges across the country. Critics argue these moves undermine trust between immigrant communities and local law enforcement, while proponents assert they are necessary for national security and the rule of law.

Local response to Rokita’s action has varied. Councilmen Kenneth Monroe and Terence Hill, when reached for comment, chose to remain silent on the matter. However, Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, criticized the selective targeting of East Chicago, questioning both the basis and the evidence behind Rokita’s suit. Randolph accused Rokita of overstepping his bounds, contending that the Attorney General’s role is to protect Indiana citizens, not litigate against them, suggesting that the legal action could be perceived as treating residents as criminals rather than protecting them.

This lawsuit potentially sets a significant precedent for how similar cases might be handled in Indiana and possibly beyond, depending on its outcome. It highlights the tensions between state and local governance, especially in the interpretation and application of federal immigration laws, a hot-button issue that continues to resonate through many parts of the United States.