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Sunday, May 26, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Stays Anti-Syrian Refugee Order in Indiana

(CN) - Indiana cannot withhold federal funds from relief organizations that help refugee families from Syria settle in the state, a federal judge ruled.

Gov. Mike Pence was among 31 governors who vowed, on the heels of terrorist attacks in France, not to let any of the millions of refugees fleeing slaughter in Syria resettle in their states.

Marion County-based Exodus Refugee Immigration sued the governor, claiming 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 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 resettlement efforts has proved difficult to overcome.

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 said 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 sought an injunction preventing Pence and state agencies from rejecting or otherwise discouraging the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt granted Exodus an injunction Monday.

The order prohibits Indiana from "taking any actions to interfere with or attempt to deter the resettlement of Syrian refugees by Exodus in the State of Indiana, including by withholding from Exodus funds and services due."

As the state acknowledges, it has no authority to close its borders to Syrians lawfully granted asylum in the U.S.

Instead, Pence ordered state agencies not to pay federal grant money to local resettlement agencies for social services provided to Syrian refugees.

"Here, the State's directive, which singles out refugees of Syrian citizenship or those of no citizenship who last resided in Syria, can fairly be described as a classification based on nationality," Walton said. "The State's own characterization of it removes any doubt that it discriminates based on national origin."

The judge declined to entertain the state's claim that the governor's directive was based on "country of origin" rather than "national origin."

She also rejected the state's claim that it is promoting public safety by withholding federal funds for services provided to Syrian refugees.

"The State deprives Syrian refugees that are already in Indiana of social services in the hopes that it will deter Voluntary Agencies from resettling other Syrian refugees in the State. This is essentially a policy of punishing Syrian refugees already in Indiana in the hopes that no more will come," Walton said.

She noted that some Syrian refugees served by Exodus are as young as four years old.

"It is beyond reasonable argument to contend that a policy that purportedly deters four-year-olds from resettling in Indiana is narrowly tailored to serve the State's asserted interest in public safety," Walton said.

"We are extremely pleased by the decision," said Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana said in a press release. "The equal protection clause of the United States Constitution demands that all of the refugees who are extensively vetted and finally approved by the federal government be treated equally. Indiana was not, and now, pursuant to the trial court's order, must do so."

Pence issued a statement saying he will seek an immediate stay of Walton's decision.

"As governor I have no higher priority than the safety and security of the people of Indiana. During these uncertain times, we must always err on the side of caution," Pence said.

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