CHICAGO (CN) – The Seventh Circuit heard oral arguments Friday in Indiana’s appeal seeking to vacate a settlement between the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and the American Civil Liberties Union that prohibits cooperation with federal immigration authorities without a warrant.
“We have Article III standing when our laws are misinterpreted,” Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher told the Seventh Circuit panel Friday morning.
Fisher, joined by the United States as amicus, asked the Chicago-based appeals court to vacate the settlement agreement prohibiting Marion County, home to Indianapolis, from cooperating with warrantless U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement detainer requests and allow the state to intervene in the case.
“When there is a specific request from ICE to detain a person,” Fisher said, Indiana law “requires that kind of cooperation.”
In 2014, Antonio Lopez-Aguilar traveled to Indianapolis to appear in Marion County Traffic Court on the misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle without a license. The case was closed after the hearing, and he was not ordered to serve jail time.
But as he was leaving the courtroom, a Marion County sheriff’s deputy took Lopez-Aguilar into custody on the request of ICE and turned him over to federal authorities, who opened an immigration removal case against him.
Represented by the ACLU, Lopez-Aguilar filed a civil rights lawsuit alleging that the sheriff’s office violated the Fourth Amendment by seizing him without probable cause, and a federal judge ruled in his favor.
“For the avoidance of doubt, an ICE request that the sheriff’s department seize or hold an individual in custody based solely on a civil immigration violation does not justify a Fourth Amendment seizure,” U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker wrote in her July 2017 opinion.
The sheriff’s office later settled with the ACLU and agreed to end warrantless ICE detention requests.
Indiana’s attorney general, however, filed an appeal – although it was not a party before the lower court – seeking to intervene in opposition to the settlement agreement, which it claims is based on a misunderstanding of state law.
Both Fisher and Assistant Attorney General Scott Stewart argued Friday that this case is not similar to Arizona v. U.S., a Supreme Court decision that invalidated a state law authorizing local law enforcement of federal immigration laws, because Indiana law enforcement is only asked for “modest cooperation” with ICE, not to act on its own.
Fisher repeatedly referred to Indiana Senate Bill 590, which prohibits any governmental body from implementing a policy that restricts law enforcement cooperation with federal immigration officials, and said the settlement agreement required Marion County to break state law.
He said Indiana law requires local police to honor federal detainer requests, but Marion County and the ACLU disagreed with his interpretation of SB 590.
Marion County’s attorney Donald Morgan told the court, “Texas law requires local law enforcement to honor detainers; Indiana law doesn’t.”
ACLU attorney Gavin Rose argued that Indiana is barred from intervening on procedural grounds.
In response to a question from U.S. Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Rose said that a state may only intervene in cases “that question a statute’s validity,” not those that simply interpret a state law – even if the interpretation is wrong.
If Indiana prevails, Rose said, “then government intervention rights are virtually limitless.”
U.S. Circuit Judges Kenneth Ripple and Joel Flaum also sat on the panel. The judges asked very few questions of the attorneys, and Flaum did not speak during the arguments.