Court denies state’s motion to stay Syrian refugee case

After blocking the state from banning the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana, a refugee organization can continue its litigation against the state after a district court judge denied the state’s motion to stay proceedings while the Supreme Court of the United States reviews a federal travel ban.

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana Judge Tanya Walton Pratt On Tuesday denied the state’s motion to stay proceedings in Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc. v. Eric Holcomb and Jennifer Walthall, 1:15-cv-01858. That case began after former Gov. Mike Pence implemented a ban on Syrian refugee resettlement and the use of related federal grant aid in Indiana in November 2015. Indianapolis-based Exodus Refugee Immigration won a permanent injunction against the state on that policy from Pratt and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals last fall.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump began implementing a series of executive orders shortly after his inauguration in January that imposed 90-day suspensions on entry of nationals from certain countries, including Syria, into the United States. The administration also suspended the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days. The Fourth and Ninth Circuit enjoined those “travel ban cases,” and the Supreme Court granted certiorari and scheduled oral arguments for Oct. 10.

However, after Trump issued a proclamation in late September indefinitely suspending entry of nationals from eight countries, including Syria, justices vacated the Oct. 10 hearing and ordered the parties to file briefings regarding whether the proclamation rendered the travel ban cases moot. The high court eventually dismissed the Fourth Circuit case as moot because the 90-day suspension in the case had expired.

Meanwhile, before Trump issued the proclamation, Exodus moved for summary judgment in the Southern District and requested the preliminary injunction be made permanent. But in light of the Supreme Court’s pending decision in the federal travel ban case, Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project, the state moved to stay local proceedings.

Specifically, the state argued the parties in the federal case could “delve into the justifications for the Executive Order which will include safety concerns over entry of nationals from the specified countries including Syria, and a provision that gives states greater control in refugee placement.” But Pratt dismissed those arguments as “pure speculation” and irrelevant, considering the Supreme Court has already dismissed the case related to the 90-day suspension.

Further, a potential Supreme Court decision on the travel ban case would not render the Indiana case moot because hundreds of refugees are currently living in the state and are eligible for federal grant services for up to five years after their arrival, Pratt said.  She also noted that given events that have transpired this year, it is “equally likely that a superseding presidential order will render the Proclamation moot.”

“More importantly, as previously mentioned, the indefinite suspension of Syrian refugees would not affect the refugees that currently reside in Indiana that are entitled to the social services offered by the grant at issue in the present case,” Pratt continued. “Therefore, the State cannot establish duplicative litigation because IRAP nor any potential future Supreme Court case on the legality of the Proclamation will leave the action that the injunction seeks to prohibit unresolved.”

Ken Falk, legal director for the ACLU of Indiana, which is representing Exodus in the Indiana litigation, said his office had argued there was no reason to delay the Indiana proceedings since the law was established through the 7th Circuit decision, so they are pleased the district court agreed. A spokesman for the Indiana Attorney General’s Office, which is representing the state, did not respond to a message seeking comment on Pratt's decision.

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