The Republican-controlled Senate voted along party lines Monday to authorize Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita to sue East Chicago and Gary for having policies aimed at welcoming immigrants to each city.

Senate Bill 181, which now goes to the Republican-controlled House, grants Rokita sole authority to enforce Indiana’s 2011 “sanctuary city” ban.

It also compels the attorney general to sue any local government or educational institution if he believes there’s probable cause the unit is not complying with the law.

Rokita and other top Hoosier Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Mike Braun, and state Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, the sponsor of the measure, have said they believe the “Welcoming City” ordinances enacted years ago by Gary and East Chicago are unlawful sanctuary city policies — despite Gary’s city-owned airport routinely being used by federal authorities to return immigrants that entered the country unlawfully to their home countries.

In 2022, the Indiana Supreme Court dismissed a sanctuary city claim against Gary following five years of litigation after the five Republican-appointed justices concluded the four Indiana residents who filed suit against the Steel City lacked sufficient standing since they’ve suffered no injury due to Gary’s ordinance.

That lawsuit, and a similar sanctuary city claim against East Chicago dismissed by the Indiana Court of Appeals, both were supported by Rokita’s office, and each was argued by prominent conservative attorney James Bopp Jr. of Terre Haute, who now works for Rokita as a contract attorney, records show.

Koch said his legislation would allow the attorney general to refile those claims and finally answer whether Gary and East Chicago are complying with the state’s sanctuary city ban.

State Sen. Rodney Pol Jr., D-Chesterton, who works as an attorney for the city of Gary, said the “Welcoming City” ordinance is not a sanctuary city declaration.

Instead, he said it merely lets immigrants in danger know they can seek assistance from the police without worrying about whether they’ll be asked about their immigration status.

“This ordinance was a message to the people of the community that the Gary Police Department would not be ICE agents,” Pol said.

Pol also observed that Rokita, who is running for reelection this year, may weaponize for political purposes any authority he’s granted to enforce the sanctuary city law.