The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana and the National Immigration Law Center filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to block a new state law that they say gives police sweeping arrest powers against immigrants who haven't committed any crime.
The suit, which seeks class-action status, was filed on behalf of two Mexicans and one Nigerian who live in the Indianapolis area.
"For these three plaintiffs and many others in similar situations, this law would allow their arrests simply because paperwork — perhaps even paperwork supporting their routes to citizenship — had been issued by an agency sometime in their lives, even if they have committed no crime," ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk said in a statement.
The new law allows police to arrest immigrants under certain conditions, including if a removal order has been issued for them by an immigration court. However, the suit says some of those conditions are too broad and can apply widely to thousands of immigrants, and they violate the constitutional requirement of probable cause.
For example, the law allows the arrest of anyone who has had a notice of action filed by immigration authorities, a formal paperwork step that affects virtually anyone trying to get into this country, an NILC attorney said.
"Practically anyone who has any kind of immigration case can get a notice of action," said Linton Joaquin, general counsel with NILC. "It makes absolutely no sense for that to trigger arrest authority. It's an attack on immigrants."
The ACLU said one of the plaintiffs was a Mexican who applied for a special visa after being a victim of a violent crime. She received a notice of action in her case, making her subject to arrest under the new law.
The groups, along with an Indianapolis law firm, are seeking a preliminary injunction to block the law from taking effect as scheduled July 1.
Joaquin said it appeared that lawmakers used as a model a Utah law that the ACLU and NILC already have sued to block, but actually broadened its arrest powers in the Indiana version. Provisions of Arizona's immigration law, including one that allows police broad leeway to question the immigration status of those they suspect are in the country illegally, have already been blocked by an appellate judge.
The Indiana law also makes the use of identification cards issued by foreign consulates illegal. Joaquin said such cards are used by tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants in Indiana.
The suit claims the state is trying to step into immigration issues that clearly are the province of the federal government.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said Wednesday he would defend the new law in court.
"It was clear during the recent legislative session that our Legislature is responding to the failure of the federal government to enact and enforce immigration policies," Zoeller said, adding that he has encouraged a federal approach to immigration issues.
Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the measure into law May 10.
"It appears the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against citizens of Indiana in favor of illegal immigrants," said the law's author, state Sen. Mike Delph, R-Indianapolis. "Illegal immigration is just that — illegal. Those here unlawfully need to return to their country of origin and re-enter by lawful means. It's time we stand up for the taxpayer and the American citizen who wants nothing less than existing law enforced."