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Council To Consider West Lafayette Immigration Safe Haven Designation

Patrick Finnegan

The West Lafayette City Council is considering a resolution that would declare West Lafayette a safe haven for immigrants.

The resolution seeks to discourage city employees from assisting authorities in investigating a person’s immigration status, unless required by a court order.

The resolution stops short of designating Lafayette a so-called “sanctuary city,” a term that has become popular when referring to cities that refuse to assist federal entities with deportation of undocumented people.

Several courts have found that no federal law requires local agencies to assist in deporting immigrants. However, West Lafayette Police Chief Jason Dombkowski says in Indiana, state law requires local officials to comply with the feds when it comes to matters of immigration. “There’s a reason why you don’t see sanctuary cities in Indiana,” he says.

Dombkowski says he understands why people would want such a resolution passed in West Lafayette, which has a sizable population of international students and faculty at Purdue University.

“West Lafayette has a special relationship to immigrants because of the very large number who come here to study teach do research, work and create businesses,” the resolution’s authors write.

But Dombkowski insists inquiring about an immigrant’s history is necessary for the police to do their job.

“It plays into a lot of logistics of what we do and that concerns me” he says. “The resolution, some points in it interfere with those operations, we do inquire often about somebody’s status here.”

For example, he says police might need to know if a student will be in the country to testify at a later date.

“Usually, we can’t be bound when we’re trying to do a criminal investigation, the stakes are too high,” says Dombkowski. However, the chief does add illegal immigration isn’t a problem the West Lafayette Police is interested in following very closely.

“We’re not interested in enforcing federal immigration law,” he says. “Our legal obligation is to assist, and there’s a fine line there. At the end of the day we’re going to follow the law that requires us to do what we have to do.”

As the business is a resolution, not an ordinance, it’s unlikely the resolution would end up having any legal teeth.

It’s scheduled to be heard at Monday’s city council meeting. 

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