ACLU: Governor Pence can’t refuse Syrian refugee resettlement in Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The fight over Syrian refugees entering the United States is putting Indiana in the national political spotlight again. Tuesday morning, the ACLU and Exodus Refugee Immigration talked about a newly-filed lawsuit, which states Governor Pence doesn’t have the power to suspend resettlement of Syrian refugees.

The ACLU states Governor Pence can’t get into the area of immigration and refugee resettlement, since it’s the federal government’s job and not the state’s. The ACLU said it believes this is the first lawsuit of its type filed over this issue in the country.

“These are people that the U.S. handpicks to be resettled here,” said Carleen Miller, Executive Director of Exodus Refugee Immigration.

Money is at stake in the fight. Exodus Refugee Immigration gets roughly $900,000 in funding yearly to provide services refugees seeking resettlement in Indiana. They are one of three such agencies.

The money is federal, but it flows through the state. The ACLU said any action by Governor Mike Pence to stop it is illegal.

“The state itself gets millions of dollars for refugee resettlement,” said Ken Falk, Legal Director, with ACLU of Indiana, “The state itself has promised the United States government by federal law that it will not discriminate on national origin.”

Pence’s decision to suspend Syrian refugee resettlement after the Paris terror attacks became more controversial last week, because Exodus Refugee had to divert a family of three bound for Indiana to Connecticut.

“They are not the ones creating the terror. They are the ones fleeing the terror,” said Miller.

Pence and more than two dozen other governors across the country cite security gaps in the screening process by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security.

Speaking exclusively to CBS4, FBI Special Agent in Charge in Indianapolis Jay Abbott said Tuesday the screening process is effective.

“What they were forwarding in Congress, was they wanted a personal guarantee from the head for the Department of Homeland Security, Director of FBI and CIA that each and every Syrian refugee was not going to represent a harm to the United States. Well, that’s almost impossible to guarantee,” said Abbott.

Governor Mike Pence attended a Thanksgiving event in Indianapolis Tuesday morning, but his staff would only allow questions on the topic of Thanksgiving.

A spokesperson later released the following statement:

Governor Pence took decisive action a week ago to put the safety and security of the people of Indiana first by suspending the state's participation in the resettlement of Syrian refugees. 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 governor believes that public safety is not a partisan issue. A bipartisan majority of governors have taken similar actions. Last week, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to pause the entry of Syrian refugees until proper security screening measures are implemented.

The governor believes that caution and compassion are not mutually exclusive. We can take measures to ensure the security of our nation even while we continue to extend support and refuge to people around the world fleeing from the ravages of hardship and war.

Falk said the ACLU filed a request for a preliminary injunction in the case on Tuesday. They are hoping for a hearing in the near future.

A spokesperson for Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller released this statement:

“We are reviewing with our State clients the ACLU lawyers’ complaint; and part of that review is whether the lawsuit raises any actual legal question for a court to decide or is instead a dispute over policy that might not belong in the courts. While people have differences of opinion about policy, a rush to the courthouse by the ACLU lawyers should not have been necessary while the State was seeking information from the federal government and reassurances about the safeguards of the program. It should be noted the plaintiff is not a refugee family but instead is a nonprofit claiming it is owed taxpayer funds. Assertions in the civil lawsuit are the opinion of the ACLU lawyers filing them and may be refuted in court.”

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