The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Gov. Mike Pence to stop him from blocking federal funds that help Syrian refugees move to Indiana.
The ACLU is seeking a preliminary injunction on behalf of Exodus Refugee Immigration, a nonprofit corporation that assists refugees with federal money funneled through the state.
Indiana ACLU Legal Director Ken Falk says the governor’s actions are unconstitutional and violate equal protection laws and The Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Pence has defended the move, saying the U.S. needs to address what he calls “security gaps” in the investigation of those seeking to leave Syria, especially since Paris police are investigating whether one of the terrorists who carried out the Nov. 13 attacks there may have traveled through the refugee system in Europe.
But Falk says states do not have the right to circumvent decisions made by the federal government.
“We are not talking legal theory here, we’re talking about affecting what, as Carleen noted is most fundamental in American history – the ability, and the need, and the welcoming that we have given to refugees for not just decades but from the time when America was America,” Falk says.
The suit also argues that Pence’s order will cause financial harm to Exodus Refugee, since federal money that is used to help provide temporary housing and employment assistance to refugees often passes through state agencies, regulated by the Family and Social Services Administration.
One Syrian family of three who had been scheduled to arrive in Indy after spending three years in the U.S. refugee system was diverted to Connecticut following Pence’s order.
Hundreds of thousands have fled Syria this year, first during battles between the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and rebel forces and later between Assad’s soldiers and ISIS.
However, the refugee question has also become a political battle; with two dozen Republican governors calling for a halt to Syrian immigration, while the Democratic administration of President Obama defends the U.S. refugee system as safe.
Exodus Executive Director Carleen Miller refuted claims that accepting refugees from Syria poses a security risk, citing the minimum 18-month vetting process each refugee goes through to move to the United States.
Miller says she wishes Pence and the more than two dozen other governors who want to halt the resettlement program understood more about who the Syrian refugees are.
“They are shop-owners, and business owners, and the kids are in school, and they’re bright and lovely, and I would for the governors to actually meet with Syrian families, and hear about their stories and why we need to welcome them,” Miller says.
Falk and Miller say there are 19 Syrians approved for refugee status and waiting to move to Indiana. Miller says Exodus Refugee has already resettled 25 Syrians in the Indianapolis area this year.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the governor’s office says Pence stands by his decision to suspend 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 spokesperson Kara Brooks says.
The Indiana Attorney General’s office says it is reviewing the legal complaint, but adds “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.”
Jordan Sharp contributed to this report.
Take a look at the full court filings below: