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Indiana Gov. Reiterates Syrian Refugee Stance

(CN) - Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said in a new letter to his state's Congressional delegation that his request to halt the country's Syrian refugee program "is not unprecedented or unreasonable."

Pence had been among 31 state leaders who vowed last month, on the heels of terrorist attacks in France, not to let any of the millions of refugees fleeing slaughter in Syria resettle in their jurisdictions.

In a letter to U.S. senators and representatives from Indiana, the governor said Wednesday that a bill must be passed to address concerns regarding Syrian refugees.

"As our state's representatives in Congress, I write today to urge you to pause the Syrian refugee program and enact legislation that will address the safety and security concerns so that we can renew our participation," Pence's letter says.

Shortly after Pence and the other governors pledged to deny Syrian refugees, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to "pause" new admissions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees across the country.

Some Republican presidential candidates meanwhile have added hateful rhetoric to the controversy. While Ben Carson likened the refugees to "rabid" dogs, Donald Trump made headlines for saying Muslim Americans should be monitored on a database. Trump refined this comment recently to say the database would focus more on refugees.

In his Wednesday letter, Pence said his request for legislation addressing refugee security concerns "is not unprecedented or unreasonable," claiming that the Obama administration paused the Iraqi refugee program for six months in 2009 after it was determined that two refugees to Kentucky were al-Qaida terrorists.

"The United States and Indiana have proud traditions of welcoming individuals and families who seek the safety and refuge that all Americans find within our borders. None of us wants to deny this to people who have been through war, violence and terror in Syria. They are victims of a brutal regime," the governor wrote. "However, while there are admitted security vulnerabilities in the system we must first be vigilant to protect Americans."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sued Pence last week on behalf of resettlement agency Exodus Refugee Immigration, seeking an injunction preventing Pence and state agencies from rejecting or otherwise discouraging the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

"There is no border around the state of Indiana that prevents people from entering our state who may move freely within the United States," ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk said in a press release. "Decisions concerning immigration and refugee resettlement are exclusively the province of the federal government, and attempts to pre-empt that authority violate both equal protection and civil rights laws and intrude on authority that is exclusively federal."

The governor's office released a statement regarding the lawsuit, reiterating Pence's belief that his actions were right and lawful.

"The governor is confident he has the authority to suspend the state's participation in the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana and will not reverse course until the Administration and Congress take action to pause this program and implement measures necessary to address security gaps acknowledged by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security," the statement says.

But Exodus Refugee Immigration says Pence violated equal-protection laws and discriminated on the basis on national origin.

"The actions taken by Governor Pence to block Syrian refugees from entering the State of Indiana are not in line with Hoosier or American values," Exodus executive director Carleen Miller said in a statement. "Indiana is a welcoming state known for our hospitality. History will judge us in this moment - whether we take the moral stand for victims of war and persecution in their time of need or reject our core principles by giving in to fear and terror."

Texas, meanwhile, sued the United States and the International Rescue Committee on Wednesday, to try to keep Syrian refugees out of the Lone Star State.

The state threatened to kill funding and sue social services organizations if they defy Gov. Greg Abbott's refusal to accept Syrian refugees -- an order Abbott issued without the legal power to do so.

"Texas will not accept any Syrian refugees & I demand the U.S. act similarly," Abbott tweeted on Nov. 16.

In a Nov. 25 letter to the International Rescue Committee, Chris Traylor, executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, wrote: "Failure by your organization to cooperate with the State of Texas as required by federal law may result in the termination of your contract with the state and other legal action."

The refugee agency responded Monday, saying it would continue to resettle Syrians.

"The IRC understands Governor Abbott's commitment to the safety of the people of Texas," the group said in a statement. "There is no doubt that what happened on the streets of Paris on November 13 was horrific and the actions of a terrorist organization. However, it is important not to conflate terrorists with the Syrian refugees who are seeking sanctuary in the United States. These are people who are fleeing violence and persecution inflicted by extremist groups and armed actors - some of whom are the same groups who took those innocent lives in Paris, Beirut, and on a Russian airliner, all in the past month."

But Texas followed through on its threat Wednesday by filing the lawsuit. It claims the Refugee Act of 1980 requires the federal government to "consult regularly" with state and local governments and nonprofit agencies on the refugee sponsorship process and refugees' relocation "before their placement" in their new homes.

"Highlighting the role of the states is the fact that section 1522 mentions states 14 times," the lawsuit states. "Instead of adhering to that statutory framework, the federal government and the committee have left Texas uninformed about refugees that could well pose a security risk to Texans and without any say in the process of resettling these refugees."

Texas claims the IRC plans to resettle six Syrian refugees in Dallas on Friday, Dec. 4, and that it did not comply with its Dec. 1 request to stop the resettlement "until we have receive[d] the requested information and our concerns with screening procedures have been appropriately addressed" by federal officials.

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