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Here’s Why the ACLU is Suing Indiana’s governor

Gov. Mike PenceGov. Mike Pence
Indiana Gov. Mike PencePhotograph by Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

This post has been updated to reflect Gov. Pence’s statement Tuesday afternoon.

When Indiana governor Mike Pence announced last week that he was joining other Republican governors in demanding that no Syrian refugees be sent to his state, one Syrian family was already en route. They landed in New York expecting to continue on to Indianapolis, where a refugee aid group called Exodus Refugee Immigration had already arranged their transition. Instead, due to Pence’s statement, the family was diverted to Connecticut, according to The New York Times.

Now the American Civil Liberties Union is suing Pence and the Secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration on behalf of Exodus Refugee Immigration, seeking to stop the governor’s attempts to block refugees for resettling and receiving aid in his state.

The federal government, which is in charge of immigration and refugees, assigned the aid organization to settle 19 more Syrian refugees in Indiana in the coming months, the ACLU says in a court filing. But with Pence’s bar on refugees in the state, Exodus says it could be wasting a lot of resources for refugees that will never come.

The ACLU makes the point that Pence is not constitutionally able to turn away refugees that have been assigned to his state for resettlement by the federal government. What he can do, however, is refuse to pay for the typical services they receive at the outset to help them get on their feet: food stamps, Medicaid, and English language classes, for example. In that case, Exodus would have to pick up the tab.

“This lawsuit is calling out Governor Pence on his unconstitutional bluff,” said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy legal director of ACLU’s immigrants’ rights project, in a press release. “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.”

Pence’s office is standing by his suspension of refugee resettlement in the state. “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 office said in a prepared statement. “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.”