Indiana tries to reject Syrian refugees. Judge says no

A federal judge has ordered Indiana state agencies to continue funding charities that support Syrian refugees, ruling that the governor's attempt to prevent resettlement was unconstitutional discrimination.

(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence delivers his State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature at the Statehouse in Indianapolis in Jan. 2016. A federal judge on Monday blocked Pence's order that barred state agencies from helping Syrian refugees resettle in Indiana,

A federal judge has blocked Indiana Gov. Mike Pence's order to prevent state agencies from helping Syrian refugees, calling the strategy unconstitutional discrimination that does not improve Hoosiers' safety.

The ruling may set precedent for more than two dozen states attempting to block refugee resettlement.

US District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt ruled in favor of Exodus Refugee Immigration, which provides services such as language classes and job training for newcomers from around the world, including Syrians. The organization plans to resettle about 200 refugees in 2016, including a family of four who arrived in January and were welcomed by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

In the wake of the November ISIS attacks in Paris, governors in more than 30 states declared that they would not allow Syrian refugees inside their borders, challenging the White House's plan to resettle 10,000 people displaced by the Syrian civil war. Governors cited safety concerns, particularly after a theory that one of the ISIS attackers used a Syrian passport to enter France. French officials later said the passport was likely forged

Under US law, governors do not have the authority to block refugees outright. In Indiana, however, Governor Pence ordered state agencies not to fund Exodus Refugee Immigration's programs. Judge Pratt's ruling grant's the group's request for a preliminary injunction, meaning that agencies must continue funding it until the case is resolved.

Withholding funds "in no way directly, or even indirectly, promotes the safety of Indiana citizens," and constitutes "national origin discrimination" she wrote.

Pence immediately ordered the state Attorney General to file an appeal, promising to fight the ruling "so long as the Obama administration continues to refuse to address gaps in the screening of Syrian refugees acknowledged by the FBI and a bipartisan majority in Congress."

The White House has said that vetting for Syrian refugees is a thorough, two-year process.

Organizations providing refugee services have filed lawsuits against similar orders in Texas, Alabama, and Pennsylvania, according to Pratt's ruling. In November, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott initially filed a restraining order against Syrian refugees, but withdrew it after the US. Justice Department asserted that the state lacked authority to change federal immigration policy. Around 250 Syrian refugees had moved to Texas between 2011 and 2015.

Some of the staunchest supporters of Syrian resettlement programs have been religious groups, including Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin, who met with the governor to hear his objections to the Archdiocese hosting a Syrian family. The Archbishop said he "prayerfully considered" Pence's concerns, but decided to welcome the family.

"This is an essential part of our identity as Catholic Christians and we will continue this life-saving tradition," he said in a December statement.

In late November, 81 organizations including 20 faith-based groups, such as the Presbyterian Church and Council of Jewish Women, wrote a letter to Congress to argue against blocking refugees.

"Syrian refugees are fleeing exactly the kind of terror that unfolded on the streets of Paris," they wrote. "They have suffered violence just like this for almost five years. ...To turn our back on refugees would be to betray our nation's core values."

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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