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Brief: Pence discriminating against Syrian refugees, posing security risk

February 1, 2016

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is unlawfully discriminating against Syrian refugees based on their national origin, argues a reply brief in a federal lawsuit that also includes statements from bipartisan national security experts who say his bid to suspend their resettlement is contrary to national security interests.

Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc. included those arguments Friday in an extensive reply brief in support of its motion for an injunction to block Pence and state agencies from withholding federal money funneled through the state. A hearing on the motion is scheduled for Feb. 15 before Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

“The humanitarian crisis posed by Syrian refugees is immense and tragic. Indiana’s response is misguided and hurtful and belies the notion of ‘Hoosier Hospitality,’” the brief says. “Regardless, what the State is doing is unlawful and unconstitutional. The requirements for the grant of a preliminary injunction are met and the State must be enjoined from interfering in any way with the federal monies owed to Exodus for serving Syrian refugees or owed to the refugees directly.”

Pence announced a suspension of the resettlement of Syrian refugees in November after the Paris terrorist attacks. Exodus sued, and the administration argued the federal government had not satisfactorily addressed security concerns.

While Pence has blocked aid in the form of federal grants provided to Exodus to assist resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana, he has not interfered with direct aid to refugees. The funds Exodus is entitled to receive from the federal government are meant to assist with social and educational services.

“(T)he State contends that its targeting of Syrian refugees and the Indiana agencies that help them ‘is justified by a compelling interest in protecting Indiana residents from the well-documented threat of terrorism posed by a flood of inscrutable refugees fleeing Syria,’” the brief says. “There is, of course, no competent evidence supporting this alarmist metaphor.”

Exodus, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, contends federal law pre-empts Pence and Indiana officials from blocking refugee resettlement, which is a function reserved for the federal government. Exodus also claims it and the refugees it serves are harmed by Pence’s actions, which it says violate equal protection and Title VI protections.

In support of its reply brief, Exodus submitted several statements from former federal officials who claimed, among other things, that Pence’s actions are contrary to national security interests.

“Indiana’s concerns are unfounded and its objections to the resettlement of Syrian refugees will ultimately undermine the foreign policy and national security interests of our country which have historically been advanced by our government’s refugee policies,” wrote Doris Meissner, commissioner for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service under former President Bill Clinton. Meissner called the process of granting refugee status “the most rigorous screening of any program governing admission of noncitizens to the United States.”

Former Director of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano shared a letter she co-authored with another former Homeland Security chief, Michael Chertoff, vouching for the scrutiny officials use when screening victims of war for entry to the U.S.

“(O)nly refugees who have been identified as the most vulnerable – particularly survivors of violence and torture, those with severe medical conditions, and women and children – are permitted to even begin the U.S. screening process,” Napolitano wrote.  

Also included in the reply is a letter signed by 18 former high-ranking officials of the State, Defense and other federal departments, from Madeleine Albright to Henry Kissinger. The letter dated Dec. 1 opposes proposals to halt resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees and argues national security and welcoming victims of war are interrelated.

“(R)esettlement initiatives help advance U.S. security interests by supporting the stability of our allies and partners that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees,” the letter says. “Refugees are victims, not perpetrators, of terrorism. Categorically refusing to take them only feeds the narrative of ISIS that there is a war between Islam and the West, that Muslims are not welcome in the United States and Europe, and that the ISIS caliphate is their true home.”

The letter is an exhibit included in a declaration filed in the case by Ryan C. Crocker, a former ambassador to Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“After the fall of Saigon, the United States welcomed more than a million Vietnamese refugees, who quickly earned a reputation for achievement,” Crocker wrote. “I know how highly Syrians value hard work and education. They are precisely the people I would want living next door to me and attending my children’s schools.”

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