Pence may argue charity can’t represent Syrian refugees

December 24, 2015

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence may argue the Indianapolis charity that sued him for attempting to suspend its federal government-approved resettlement of Syrian refugees has “a lack of any valid right of action or standing to assert the rights of refugees,” court filings show.

The administration this week was granted permission to file a brief in excess of the 35-page limit in response to the federal lawsuit filed by the nonprofit charity Exodus Refugee Immigration. Pence and Dr. John Wernert, secretary of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, were named as defendants in the suit filed last month after Pence ordered state agencies to stop the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

After filing suit, Exodus proceeded with its pre-approved resettlement of a refugee family on behalf of Catholic Charities despite Pence’s announcement, which came on the heels of the Paris terrorist bombings Nov. 13. However, another family that had been approved for resettlement in Indiana was instead rerouted to Connecticut after Pence’s announcement.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sued the state on behalf of Exodus, which operates on donations and federal funds administered through state agencies. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the state and argues its case is simple: refugee resettlement is the exclusive province of the federal government, and Pence is pre-empted from suspending resettlement.

Pence is among about 30 governors – overwhelmingly Republican – who sought to block or curtail resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states after the attacks in Paris.

Immigration lawyers worry Pence’s position could have a chilling effect on agencies serving humanitarian missions to safeguard innocent victims of conflict. Exodus has condemned Pence’s position, saying on its website, “It is based on fear, not facts. It hurts the very people fleeing ISIS and denies Hoosiers the opportunity to help.”

Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana this week granted the state defendants leave to exceed the 35 pages allowed by court guidelines to reply to the 13-page complaint. The state defendants say they may need up to 50 pages to make their case because of the number of claims asserted, complexity of issues, and involvement of not just the federal government but also the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Defendants will need to provide context for the Governor’s directive, which is an effort to protect public safety in response to (1) serious threats to the peace implied by domestic and international events, and (2) substantial homeland security questions arising from statements of federal officials concerning refugees fleeing Syria,” the state defendants said in seeking leave to file an extended reply.

The state in its reply “will also need to address threshold barriers to relief, including Plaintiff’s lack of any valid right of action or standing to assert the rights of refugees. These arguments are informed not only by statutory, constitutional, and case law doctrines, but also by UNHCR guidelines and U.S. treaty obligations, among other unusual factors requiring explication.”

In its suit, Exodus says it receives federal funding funneled through state agencies to help those being resettled with employment training, English language education, case management and health services, among other things. The suit says 19 families from Syria that have been approved for refugee status by the federal government are expected to arrive in Indiana in the coming weeks.

“Once these Syrian families are placed here in Indiana, the Governor has indicated that state agencies, including the Family and Social Services Administration, will refuse to assist the refugees. When this occurs, Exodus Refugee Immigration will be required to expend both additional staff time and organizational resources to make up for the monies and services that will not be provided by the State of Indiana and its agencies to the refugees,” the suit says.  

The state defendants are being represented by the office of Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller. Spokesman Bryan Corbin said the state will file its reply to the suit before the end of the year.

“The plaintiff is not a refugee family; the plaintiff is instead a nonprofit contractor seeking taxpayers’ money – through asking the court to require FSSA to pay targeted resettlement assistance grants,” Corbin said.

The case is Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc. v. Mike Pence et al., 1:15-CV-1858.


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