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Judge: Pence can't stop refugee resettlement

Posted at 4:24 PM, Feb 29, 2016

INDIANAPOLIS -- In a scathing rebuke, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Monday that Gov. Mike Pence's decision to suspend Syrian refugees amounted to "unconstitutional discrimination."

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt granted an injunction against the State's efforts to deter the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana by Exodos Refugee Services, including a decision by Pence to withhold state funds to the program.

The ACLU of Indiana filed a lawsuit against the governor in November on behalf of Exodus.

MORE | Pence hit with lawsuit over decision to suspend Syrian refugee resettlement | Pence: Indiana will not accept Syrian refugees |Indiana mayors urge Congress not to restrict Syrian refugees

In her ruling, Walton Pratt took the state of Indiana and Gov. Pence to task, saying the directive suspending Syrian refugee resettlement had been "utterly ineffective" and "failed to survive strict scrutiny by a wide margin:"

"The State essentially argues that it is in the public interest for the Court to allow unconstitutional discrimination to continue during the pendency of this litigation—discrimination that harms both Exodus and its clients—so that it can gain perceived leverage in its dispute with the federal government over immigration policy and whether the federal government is complying with its obligations under the Refugee Act. The Court could hardly disagree more with the State’s position. The public interest is served when constitutional rights are vindicated."

MORE | Read the full ruling here

Walton Pratt said the state also failed to provide basic support for their case:

"The State has unsurprisingly cited no legal authority for the proposition that temporary national origin discrimination is any more constitutionally acceptable than permanent discrimination. Moreover, when questioned at the hearing about the purported temporary nature of the State's directive, the State was unable to give even a loose timeframe for when the directive might change."

ACLU of Indiana Legal Director Ken Falk issued a victorious statement following the ruling.

"We are extremely pleased by the decision," Falk said. "The equal protection clause of the United States Constitution demands that all of the refugees who are extensively vetted and finally approved by the federal government be treated equally. Indiana was not and now, pursuant to the trial court’s order, must do so."

Gov. Pence and the attorney general's office both promised to appeal to decision to the 7th Circuit Court, with the governor saying he stands by his decision:

"As governor I have no higher priority than the safety and security of the people of Indiana. During these uncertain times, we must always err on the side of caution. For that reason, following the terrorist attack in Paris and the acknowledgment by the Director of the FBI that there are gaps in the screening for Syrian refugees, I suspended participation by the State of Indiana in the Syrian refugee resettlement program and I stand by that decision.

“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, Hoosiers can be assured that my administration will continue to use every legal means available to suspend this program in Indiana unless and until federal officials take steps to ensure the safety and security of our citizens."

The attorney general's office says it plans to ask Walton Pratt to stay her ruling pending its appeal.


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