An official with a national Latino civil rights group worries that a recent arrest of an illegal immigrant means a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment has reached into the northwest corner of Indiana, an area considered much more diverse than the rest of the state.
The group fears Latinos in Hammond may be targeted by police at the same time Hoosier lawmakers consider a watered-down immigration bill.
“You have an area of our country, Indiana, where there’s a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment today and the introduction of an anti-immigrant bill,” said Julie Contreras, a Chicago area resident who deals with immigration for the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). “We do not want our community to be profiled inside of Hammond, Indiana, or any part of Indiana.”
Contreras’ ire was sparked after the April 15 arrest of a 22-year-old illegal immigrant, Pedro Herrera Robles of Calumet City, Illinois, a city that’s across the state line from Hammond, Indiana.
Contreras said Herrara was arrested on a charge of public intoxication outside of his house after returning from a long day of work.
“His fiancé advises me that he was coming home from work, drinking in front of his house with a few friends. She wasn’t sure how exactly he was approached by the law enforcement agent - just that the next thing she knew her fiancé was calling her from inside the facility (Hammond jail),” Contreras said.
Contreras said police then contacted officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who requested police hold Herrera.
On April 18 Herrera went before a Hammond city judge on the misdemeanor charge and was to be released on bond, but police did not let him leave. Instead, they held Herrera until ICE picked him up three days later.
Contreras said the delay meant Herrera was held beyond the legal time limit of 48 hours.
“What was this man actually doing in front of his home? He was doing nothing but enjoying an alcoholic beverage or carrying an alcoholic beverage,” Contreras said. “Now, he’s criminalized, arrested on a misdemeanor charge, not released, given to ICE. He is now in deportation proceedings and in the next three months he will have to face an immigration judge for immigration charges for possible deportation.”
Contreras is requesting a May 4 meeting with Hammond police brass to review how the department deals with illegal immigrants and the Hispanic community.
Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller said his officers deal with illegal immigrants of various nationalities on a daily basis.
“It’s very common,” Miller said Wednesday.
Miller also contests Contreras’ account of basic facts surrounding the incident. Miller said police did not pick up Herrera in Calument City, Illinois. Instead, they found him after they responded to a hit and run incident near the intersection of Gostlin Street and Calumet Avenue in Hammond.
Miller said a witness saw the driver of one of the vehicles flee the scene on foot. The department said officers found Herrara in a section of Hammond three miles from his home. Miller said Herrara was stumbling and had glass residue on his clothing. Miller said Herrara was intoxicated, but officers had nothing that directly connected him to the hit and run incident. However, Miller said Herrera allegedly told the Spanish-speaking arresting officer, “I’m afraid of being deported again.”
Miller said the officer made a “courtesy call” to ICE and, at that point, the federal agency asked Hammond police to hold Herrera.
“We received written confirmation from ICE. We need you to hold him,” Miller said.
Miller said ICE came for Herrera the morning of April 21, about 16 hours past the 48 hour deadline of when Herrara would have otherwise been released.
Miller said his officers do not normally contact ICE unless the person has committed a felony. He said the department’s handling of Herrera’s case should not have attracted scrutiny from Contrera’s group.
“What are they really upset about? Is this a platform for a bigger political agenda?” Miller said. “We don’t want Hammond to become someone’s political fodder. … She is using this to help her cause.”
Herrera’s attorney on the pubic intoxication charge is Marco Molina, who is based in Merrillville, Indiana.
Molina said police had the right to arrest and detain Herrera but didn’t have the right to hold him beyond the 48-hour period, which expired about 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 20.
Molina said Hammond’s police department is “a lot better” than others in Northern Indiana when it comes to dealing with illegal immigrants. But he wonders why Hammond police decided to contact ICE—and whether they will do so again.
“What are they going to do in the future?” Molina said. “Are they going to be contacting ICE on these petty things? That’s my goal—to follow up with Hammond police to see if they are going to back away from these minor cases.”
Molina added that ICE officials released Herrera in Chicago as soon as he was transported there the morning of April 21.
Miller said he’s not sure if he will take up LULAC’s offer to meet on May 4. Contreras said she wants to review the department’s protocols for arrest. Contreras could not provide another example of an incident similar to Herrera’s but speculates, “There could be hundreds across Indiana.”
“There is no basis for this,” Miller said. “I’m not going to address that.”
Contreras said LULAC is considering warning Hammond Hispanics that the city’s police department could be becoming the poli-migra, a Spanish slang term used to describe police departments that enforce federal immigration laws.
“If the Hammond police department chooses to become the poli-migra the community needs to become very much aware. Now LULAC has the job of placing that community on alert for poli-migra,” Contreras said. “Is it a very distasteful word? Yes it is, but it’s a word that our community identifies with and needs to be safe. At the end of the day, the job of LULAC and many other pro-immigrant organizations, and the church in Indiana, is to keep those families together. .. When we hear this, we now know that this legislation that was produced, this anti-immigrant (Indiana Senate Bill) SB 590 bill would basically give a lot of racist law enforcement agencies a license to profile.”
Indiana Senate Bill 590 was introduced this legislative session by a Republican state senator from the Indianapolis area.
Hammond is a diverse city that leans Democratic. Hispanics make up about a third of Hammond’s 80,000 residents. SB 590 would have given police the authority to arrest anyone they suspect is an illegal immigrant. That portion of the bill was stricken from the bill because it lacked support from key political players, including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, also a Republican.
The bill that remains in the Indiana Senate has been considerably altered, some calling it watered-down. The key provision would target Indiana businesses who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.
Friday marks the close the Indiana General Assembly’s legislative session. Some speculate SB 590 will likely fail to pass because conservatives disliked changes made to it.