Friday, September 29, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Friday, September 29, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Indiana Opposition to Refugees Sparks Suit

INDIANAPOLIS (CN) - Indiana's efforts to block any Syrian refugees from entering its borders has drawn a federal complaint from one of the state's three resettlement agencies.

Gov. Mike Pence had been among 31 state leaders who vowed last week, 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.

Marion County-based Exodus Refugee Immigration says in a Nov. 23 complaint that Pence's decision hampers its efforts to place about 19 Syrians who had already received federal refugee status.

Most of the families are expected to arrive in Indiana within a few weeks, but one such family has already been diverted to Connecticut.

Though officials with the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services maintain that the government's rigorous admissions process should assuage any fears that the refugees approved for resettlement here could pose a terror threat, the backlash against refugees has proved a difficult tide to break.

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. He refined this comment recently to say the database would focus more on refugees.

Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, Exodus Refugee Immigration seeks 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."

Noting that it has worked with 892 Indiana refuges this year alone, Exodus Refugee Immigration also wants the recovery of money it normally receives through the state, for resources spent preparing and actually placing the displaced refugees and their families.

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.

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."

Pence meanwhile penning an editorial that cites safety as the reason for halting the refugees.

"Indiana and the United States must continue to serve as a safe harbor for refugees from around the world; however, unless and until the federal government addresses the security gaps acknowledged by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security with regard to refugees from Syria, as governor I will continue to put the safety and security of Hoosiers first," Pence wrote.

In addition to Pence, the lawsuit names as defendants John Wernert, the secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. The administration is the agency that houses the Indiana Refugee Resettlement Office.

Categories / Uncategorized

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.