Indiana Governor Faces Lawsuit For Rejecting Syrian Refugees

This post has been updated.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit on Monday against Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) on behalf of the refugee agency that redirected a Syrian refugee family from Indiana to Connecticut at the request of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction to keep the governor from withholding any state or federal refugee resettlement funds from Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc., and states that Pence’s rejection of refugees from Syria is unconstitutional.

“This lawsuit is calling out Governor Pence on his unconstitutional bluff,” Judy Rabinovitz, deputy legal director of the ACLU’s immigrants’ rights project, said in a statement. “He does not have the power to pick and choose between which lawfully-admitted refugees he is willing to accept. Singling out Syrian refugees for exclusion from Indiana is not only ethically wrong, it is unconstitutional. Period.”

Governors do not have the authority to block refugees from living in their states, since the federal government sets immigration policy. And experts say that targeting refugees from certain regions is unconstitutional and could invite lawsuits.

But the lawsuit filed by the ACLU notes that when Exodus had to redirect a Syrian refugee family to Connecticut at the last minute, the agency had to spend its own funds to find the family a new home.

“Exodus Refugee Immigration had expended both staff time and resources in preparing for the Syrian refugee family who did not come to Indiana. These resources were necessarily diverted from other projects and from assisting other refugees,” the complaint reads.

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According to the complaint, Exodus receives federal aide for refugee resettlement through the Indiana state government. And the lawsuit indicates that Exodus is concerned that Indiana will withhold state and federal resettlement funds from the agency for upcoming resettlements.

“Once these Syrian families are placed here in Indiana, the Governor has indicated that state agencies, including the Family and Social Services Administration, will refuse to assist the refugees,” the complaint reads. “When this occurs, Exodus Refugee Immigration will be required to expend both additional staff time and organizational resources to make up for the monies and services that will not be provided by the State of Indiana and its agencies to the refugees.”

The federal government has approved 19 refugees from Syria to be resettled in Indiana through Exodus who are expected to arrive in the next few weeks or months, according to the lawsuit.

It’s not clear whether Pence will withhold any funds from refugee agencies. Earlier in November, he directed “all state agencies to suspend the resettlement of additional Syrian refugees in the state of Indiana pending assurances from the federal government that proper security measures have been achieved.”

In a statement issued in response to the ACLU lawsuit on Tuesday, Pence’s office said that the state will continue to suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana.

“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,” Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks said in a statement.

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