Anti-immigrant movement takes ‘welcoming city’ to court

Imagine2050 Staff • Dec 19, 2017

For years, the organized anti-immigrant movement has sought to eliminate sanctuary law enforcement practices. Gary, Indiana, has become the movement’s latest target.

The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), announced recently that it has filed a lawsuit against the city in Indiana’s Lake County Circuit Court. IRLI is the legal arm of flagship anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform. As the Center for New Community detailed in a 2016 report, IRLI has been at the forefront of the anti-immigrant movement’s litigation efforts, drafting and often unsuccessfully defending nativist measures while sticking localities with the substantial bills.

Likely emboldened by support from the Department of Justice and Attorney General Jeff Sessions—an established nativist–the anti-immigrant movement is now playing offense. The Gary lawsuit comes after the city’s Common Council passed a “welcoming city” ordinance in May of this year. The ordinance stipulates that Gary Police do not unnecessarily collect information regarding residents’ immigration status. The ordinance also establishes that Gary police are not obligated to comply with legally suspect “detainer” requests from federal immigration officials.

“We shouldn’t be going around asking people to share their (immigration) legal status,” Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson told the Post-Tribune, “Our officers shouldn’t be trying to stand in the shoes of an (Immigration) officer, that’s their job.”

Like other anti-immigrant groups, IRLI maintains that it is the job of local police to enforce federal immigration laws. As it noted in its press release announcing the lawsuit, “IRLI was involved in Indiana’s anti-sanctuary law from its inception, advising lawmakers during the drafting process and defending it against attacks by the amnesty lobby.” Last April, IRLI representatives Kris Kobach and Dale Wilcox also testified before the inaugural meeting of the Indiana Senate Select Committee on Immigration Issues.

IRLI filed its lawsuit against the Northwest Indiana city on behalf of four Indiana residents: Jeff Nicholson, Douglas Grimes, Greg Serbon, and Cheree Calabro. The latter two are not Gary residents. Instead, they are two prominent members of the anti-immigrant group Indiana Federation for Immigration Reform & Enforcement (IFIRE). FAIR previously listed IFIRE as a state contact group on its website, before removing group listings altogether last year. IFIRE’s activity has been limited in recent years. Today, the group has virtually no public presence, amounting to little more than a semi-regularly updated Facebook page followed by 28 accounts. Serbon and Calabro’s inclusion as plaintiffs in the new lawsuit indicates their group has maintained communication with the country’s most prominent and well-resourced anti-immigrant groups. Their affiliation with IFIRE is also not disclosed in IRLI’s legal complaint.

There is one other Indiana resident IRLI is working with on the lawsuit against Gary. IRLI filed its lawsuit jointly with the Terre Haute, Indiana based law firm of right-wing lawyer James Bopp, Jr. Bopp, a strident right-wing ideologue, is best known for spearheading litigation with the aim of eliminating limits on political campaign contributions. Most notably, Bopp litigated Citizens United v. FEC, which ushered in a new era of anonymous, record-high political spending and the rise of candidates who either self-fund their campaign or rely on relatively few wealthy benefactors.

Indeed, if it weren’t for Bopp’s work in Citizens United, the Republican Party’s 2016 presidential primary field would likely have been much smaller. Donald Trump may not be president.

Trump’s administration is also embroiled in court battles with sanctuary jurisdictions. Earlier this year, Attorney General Sessions announced his intent to withhold critical federal funds from sanctuary jurisdictions. In response, the City of Chicago filed a lawsuit against the federal government. A U.S. District Court ruled in the city’s favor, which the Department of Justice has since appealed. City of Chicago v. Sessions will now be heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The same week it announced its lawsuit against Gary, IRLI also filed an amicus brief with the 7th Circuit defending the federal government in City of Chicago v. Sessions. IRLI has filed similar briefs in courts across the country in defense of the Trump administration’s multiple Muslim ban efforts.

This, of course, is all part of a larger effort by the anti-immigrant movement to malign cities, counties, and states seeking to strengthen bonds with immigrant communities. In addition to court battles it is currently waging, the movement has also played a vital role in generating misinformation about sanctuary policies and financially supporting state-level efforts to repeal sanctuary policies via referendum.

The anti-immigrant movement has targeted sanctuary policies for years, doubling down on the effort after the tragic shooting of Kate Steinle. Even with a White House that has clearly embraced their bigoted policies, the movement continues using its resources to demonize immigrant communities and the jurisdictions seeking to defend and strengthen them.

Imagine 2050 Newsletter