GARY — By a 6-3 vote, the City Council approved a welcoming city ordinance designed to provide some protection for non-citizen residents living in Gary.
Among the provisions, the ordinance prohibits requesting or investigating the legal status of an individual unless required by a court order. It also says immigration enforcement actions are a federal responsibility and city resources shall not be commandeered to enforce federal immigration law.
The ordinance covers a broad range of other issues relating to immigrants as well. For instance, when it comes to applications related to municipal benefits, the ordinance calls for the city to delete questions regarding citizenship or immigrant status — other than those required by statute, ordinance, federal law or court order.
Gary resident Ruth Needleman, a member of an organization called Northwest Indiana Resist and perhaps the most vocal proponent of the ordinance, was among a group of residents applauding the council's decision Tuesday.
"I think it is a very important step for the city and for the Region to support our residents and to support the law," Needleman said. "Because the law says clearly — the 10th Amendment of the Constitution — that local police forces cannot be commandeered to do the work of the federal government. And we need to insist on this because it is what brings safety to our community and it also brings solidarity among our communities and that's the most important thing we need."
Attorney Alfredo Estrada, representing local groups trying to have the ordinance approved in Gary and elsewhere in Northwest Indiana, said he and others have also approached Hammond, East Chicago, Highland, Lake Station and Michigan City.
Councilwoman Ragen Hatcher, D-at large, thought it was important for Gary to lead the way in adopting the ordinance.
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In addition to having the support of the majority of the Gary City Council, the ordinance was also supported by Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson.
One of the council members voting against the ordinance, council President Ron Brewer, D-at large, had earlier questioned the need for the ordinance. He suggested at a committee meeting that some of the policies in the ordinance were already covered by other federal laws and city ordinances or could be included in a policy manual. He also contended the city does not have a large immigrant population.
Freeman-Wilson, however, said even if there was only one undocumented immigrant in the city, especially one with children, "we need to make sure that they are in some way protected."
One of President Donald Trump's executive order limits federal funding if a state or municipality doesn't adhere to 8 U.S.C. 1373 regarding cooperating or communicating with the federal government, although it has been challenged in court.
Estrada and Freeman-Wilson have both said they do not think the passage of the ordinance would endanger federal grant money for the city. Freeman-Wilson has said that local law enforcement officials cooperate and will continue to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials.
The sponsor of the 2011 state law dealing with immigration issues, state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Carmel, suggested last week, however, that the city might be opening itself up for a lawsuit, which could be filed by any resident of the state as well as the attorney general. Delph said with all the limitations in the ordinance regarding cooperation with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, it is at minimum in violation of the spirit of the state law. In regard to federal immigration law, Delph believes that by approving the ordinance, the city also would be "inviting a major standoff with the U.S. Department of Justice."