ACLU reacts to ‘victory’ after appeals court rules against Pence’s Syrian refugee resettlement ban

Mike Pence

Mike Pence

The U.S.  Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit sided against Indiana Gov. Mike Pence after hearing the state’s appeal of Pence’s policy to prevent state agencies from helping Syrian refugees resettle in Indiana.

Last month, the appeals court heard arguments from the state and refugee assistance groups. Pence attempted to prevent Syrian refugees from resettling in Indiana after the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, citing security.

The governor said he was concerned the federal government’s screening methods were inadequate to keep potential terrorists out of the country. Refugee relief group Exodus challenged the ban, and a judge issued a preliminary injunction that prevented Pence’s order from going into effect.

The appeals court ruling issued on Monday agreed with that of a lower court judge who ruled in favor of refugee groups and against the state. The appeals court ruling said the governor’s policy is discriminatory because it singles out Syrians:

[Pence] argues that his policy of excluding Syrian refugees is based not on nationality and thus is not discriminatory, but is based solely on the threat he thinks they pose to the safety of residents of Indiana. But that’s the equivalent of his saying (not that he does say) that he wants to forbid black people to settle in Indiana not because they’re black but because he’s afraid of them, and since race is therefore not his motive he isn’t discriminating. But that of course would be racial discrimination, just as his targeting Syrian refugees is discrimination on the basis of nationality.

Since Pence and other governors issued statements opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees, the refugees have been resettled in 40 states. There’s no indication that their absence in 10 states is attributed to state government action, the court said. The ruling noted that Indiana could pull out of the refugee assistance program altogether. Even then, that creates its own issues.

“Indiana is free to withdraw from the refugee assistance program, as other states have done; yet withdrawal might not interrupt the flow of Syrian refugees to the state because in states that choose not to participate in the refugee assistance program the federal government has been authorized to establish an alternative program, called Wilson/Fish, that distributes federal aid to refugees in a state without the involvement of the state government,” the ruling noted.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Pence issued the following statement:

“The safety and security of the people of Indiana is Governor Pence’s highest priority. The state of Indiana took decisive action last year to suspend resettlement of Syrian refugees after the terrorist attack in Paris and because the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged security gaps with regard to screening refugees from Syria. In addition, as recently as September 21, the State Department spokesman is quoted as saying he ‘wouldn’t debate the fact that there’s the potential for ISIS terrorists to try to insert themselves’ into the refugee program.”

Here’s how the court summarized the ruling:

The district judge granted a preliminary injunction in favor of Exodus because she believed it likely to prevail in the trial on the merits that is the usual next stage of litigation after the issuance of such an injunction. She was right, and therefore the preliminary injunction is AFFIRMED.

Read the entire ruling here.

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