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7th Circuit sets arguments in Exodus vs. Pence Syrian refugee case

July 27, 2016

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s appeal of a ruling blocking his bid to suspend resettlement of Syrian war refugees in the state will be heard by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals less than two months before voters decide if he will be the nation’s next vice president.

The Chicago court has set oral arguments for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 14 in Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc. v. Pence, et al., 16-1509. The charity that has resettled refugees and asylum seekers in Indiana for more than 35 years sued Pence and other state actors after the governor ordered a suspension of the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the wake of last November’s terrorist attacks in Paris.

District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt in March ruled in favor of Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc., finding Pence’s directive “clearly discriminates against Syrian refugees based on their national origin.” Pratt granted an injunction barring Pence from withholding from the agency federal money for refugee resettlement. She later declined Pence’s motion to stay her order pending appeal to the 7th Circuit.

Pence unsuccessfully argued the state has legitimate public safety concerns in seeking a temporary and partial suspension of grant payments to Exodus. He argues the federal government has not provided Indiana with sufficient information about the vetting process used to screen refugees.

Pratt wrote that while the state has a compelling interest in protecting its residents, withholding federal funds “in no way furthers the state’s asserted interest in the safety of Indiana residents. “

The ruling came after the federal government in February joined Exodus’ suit against Pence. The Department of Justice filed a brief claiming Pence’s action discriminated against the refugees on the basis of national origin in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the Refugee Act of 1980.

The U.S. also argued more fundamentally that immigration and the resettlement of refugees are governed by federal law.

“This case implicates important federal interests. The long-established policy and practice of the United States is to welcome vulnerable refugees who have suffered persecution to the country, offer them safe haven, and help them build new lives and ultimately become self-sufficient, all while maintaining the national security of the United States,” the DOJ brief said. “Actions by a State to discriminate against refugees based on their nationality, or deny them services intended to help them get back on their feet, thwart that policy and threaten to further marginalize refugees.”

Exodus is represented in the litigation by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. Under Pence, the state’s payment of legal fees to that organization for cases it won challenging unconstitutional laws and policies has more than doubled compared to the second term of Gov. Mitch Daniels, according to available state records. The $1.4 million total under Pence does not include legal fees from the Exodus case or Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky’s recent victory in an ACLU case striking down an unconstitutionally restrictive abortion law Pence signed this year.

In his “60 Minutes” interview alongside Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump broadcast July 17, Pence said he agreed with Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States.

“I do,” he said, according to a transcript. “In fact, in Indiana we — suspended the Syrian refugee program in the — in the wake of the terrorist attack. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of the people of this country.”

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