Fed judge blocks Indiana Governor’s ban of Syrian refugee aid

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (L) © Reuters
An Indianapolis federal judge has blocked Republican Governor Mike Pence’s order barring state agencies from helping Syrian refugees resettle in the state. The decision could have repercussions for two dozen other states who attempted similar bans.

In Monday’s preliminary injunction, US District Judge Tanya Walter Pratt said the governor’s directive “clearly discriminates against Syrian refugees based on their national origin,” reported the Associated Press.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana on behalf Exodus Refugee Immigration, a nonprofit which helps resettle refugees in Indiana. The group sued Governor Mike Pence over his attempt to suspend resettlement of Syrian refugees in the state by cutting funding. The ACLU argued the governor’s actions violated the United States Constitution and federal law.

“This ruling puts the brakes on Governor Pence’s end run around the Constitution. No state can unilaterally ban a group of refugees that has been vetted and admitted by the federal government,” said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, in a statement, according to WTTV. “By trying to block Syrian families based solely on their nationality, Indiana is flouting federal law, the U.S. Constitution, and our fundamental American values of providing refuge for families fleeing war and violence.”

The state's Attorney General's office reviewed the decision, and said it means official must resume payments to nonprofit contractors which have been partially or temporarily suspended by Pence’s November decision. Exodus is planning to settle nearly 200 Syrians in the state this year, according to the Associated Press.

Pence’s directive in November came just three days after the multiple terrorist attacks in Paris which left 130 people dead, and injured 368 others. A Syrian passport found near the body of one of the attackers was mistakenly thought to be his but was later revealed to be the identity of one of the people who had died in the attack. That early announcement shaped Pence to make his decision to limit funding to protect residents.

In her 36-page opinion, Judge Pratt said the state had a compelling concern to protect its residents, but that withholding federal grant money from the aid group "in no way furthers the state's asserted interest in the safety of Indiana residents."

The judge said the state had acknowledged that it doesn’t have the authority to bar Syrian refugees from crossing into Indiana after the US has greenlighted them to enter the country, but cutting funding was attempted to achieve the same.

"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," she wrote, according to AP. "This is essentially a policy of punishing Syrian refugees already in Indiana in the hopes that no more will come."

The Governor’s office issued a statement on Monday in response to ruling to say they would be seeking a stay from the Attorney General.

"So long as the Obama administration continues to refuse to address gaps in the screening of Syrian refugees acknowledged by the FBI and a bipartisan majority in Congress, Hoosiers can be assured that my administration will continue to use every legal means available to suspend this program in Indiana unless and until federal officials take steps to ensure the safety and security of our citizens," wrote Gov. Pence.

The ruling could have repercussion for more than two dozen states, most led by Republican governors who have taken similar action to suspend Syrian resettlement programs. Similar lawsuits against governor directives have been filed in Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Texas, according to judge’s ruling.