WASHINGTON -- The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), challenging his efforts to block Syrian refugees from resettling within his state’s borders.
“This lawsuit is calling out Governor Pence on his unconstitutional bluff,” Judy Rabinovitz, the group’s deputy legal director for immigrants’ rights, said in a press release. “Singling out Syrian refugees for exclusion from Indiana is not only ethically wrong, it is unconstitutional. Period."
The ACLU lawsuit was initiated Tuesday on behalf of Exodus Refugee Immigration, a refugee resettlement nonprofit based in Indianapolis.
The lawsuit accuses Pence of overstepping his constitutional bounds by attempting to regulate immigration -- a responsibility the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled is within the jurisdiction of the federal government. Additionally, the ACLU wrote in a legal filing, Pence’s decision to block Syrians from resettling in Indiana while continuing to allow refugees of other nationalities violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In response to the lawsuit, Pence doubled down on his decision that was made in the wake of the Nov. 13 Paris terrorist attacks.
“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’s office said in a statement Tuesday.
The current process for vetting refugee applicants takes 18 to 24 months and involves intelligence checks against databases managed by the FBI, Defense Department, State Department, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center. Of the approximately 2,000 Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. since the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, not one has been arrested or removed on terrorism charges.
Still, Pence insists the U.S. would be better off sending Syrian refugees elsewhere. On Tuesday, the governor tweeted his support for an op-ed written by U.S. Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who also opposes allowing Syrian refugees into Indiana. Instead, Coats suggested, the U.S. should ramp up its military presence in Syria to “create conditions in and near Syria that will permit people to safely remain near their home country.”
Nineteen Syrian refugees are scheduled to arrive in Indiana for resettlement in the coming weeks. In addition to three months of emergency assistance from the federal government, refugees are entitled to medical assistance, food stamps and employment services. Some of these assistance programs are funded by the federal government but administered through individual states.
Exodus Refugee Immigration anticipates that Indiana state agencies will refuse assistance to Syrian refugees, despite receiving federal refugee assistance funds. To offset the lack of state assistance, the group plans to use its own resources to help newly arriving Syrians get set up in Indiana.
Governors in more than half of the 50 states have made declarations similar to Pence’s. The ACLU chose to proceed with legal action against Indiana first, partially because Pence’s refugee policies have already had an effect on the ground.
A family of three Syrian refugees was supposed to arrive in Indiana last week, but was hastily redirected to Connecticut after Pence’s anti-refugee announcement.
With the U.S. slated to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees within the next year, lawsuits in other states are possible.
“Right now, the ACLU is evaluating its options in other states,” said Diana Scholl, a communications strategist for the group.
Read the lawsuit below: