EAST CHICAGO | If the Indiana General Assembly and Gov. Mitch Daniels proceed this spring to pass a law giving local police greater authority to check immigration status, that law will be next to impossible to enforce in this community, Mayor Anthony Copeland said Saturday.
Copeland was among hundreds of people who participated in a protest march from Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond to St. Mary's Catholic Church, 812 W. 144th St., where a rally was held to speak out against the bill sponsored by state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel. It received full Senate approval and is pending in the Indiana House.
The bill was inspired by an act last year of the Arizona Legislature meant to require local police to check immigration status in cases where they suspect a person might not be a U.S. citizen.
The hundreds who participated in the local march all oppose the Indiana bill, and Copeland said it would be impossible to enforce the measure locally -- should it become a part of state law.
"It just wouldn't work in our community, where we have always been a diverse mixture of races and ethnic groups," Copeland said. "Such a law would force us to stop and check everybody, and that isn't practical.
"We're going to keep policing our community the same way, regardless of what the state does with this bill," Copeland said.
East Chicago is 50.9 percent Hispanic -- the largest percentage of any region community -- and is 42.9 percent black.
Saturday's protest march, which took about one hour to complete with rallies before and after, was coordinated by activist groups with an interest in immigration reform, with the assistance of parishes in the Catholic Church's Gary Diocese.
Thirty-seven parishes sent individuals to participate in the march, creating a crowd that stretched nearly two blocks long and totaled about 800 people -- although organizer Jose Bustos said that based on pins given out to individuals who participated, as many as 1,500 people may have shown up for at least part of the day's events.
Among those present was Bishop Dale Melczyk, who reiterated the Catholic Church's stance that current U.S. immigration laws are flawed because they create circumstances in which families can be split up.
"We're here to pray for the defeat of (Indiana Senate Bill) 590, and for action at the federal level that will reform immigration laws in a fair and just way," Melczyk said.
Attendance at the march was not limited to East Chicago, or Indiana, residents.
Calumet City 1st Ward Alderman Edward Gonzalez -- who last year led the effort to make that south suburb a "safe haven" and limit local police involvement with immigration enforcement -- said, "Us ‘brown faces' generally become the target for everything that goes wrong in this country."
While the Illinois Legislature had similar bills introduced this year, the Democratic leadership of the Illinois House and state Senate has stalled them, and Gov. Pat Quinn has said he would veto them if they ever made it past the Legislature.
"We don't have the same problem (in Illinois) with our government," Gonzalez said. "But this is a national problem. Everybody should be pulling together for this."