Court strikes down Pence argument for state ban on Syrian refugees

FILE - Indiana governor and vice presidential candidate Mike Pence speaks at a town hall in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Thursday, July 28, 2016. (WOOD Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Calling his argument “nightmare speculation” the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals struck down efforts by Gov. Mike Pence’s administration to ban Syrian refugees from resettling in Indiana.

The harshly-worded ruling came just weeks after attorneys for the Pence administration appeared before the appeals court in Chicago. They were attempting to overturn a lower court ruling that found the Pence administration erred in its judgment when the governor ordered state agencies to stop providing federal dollars to groups that were assisting Syrian refugees resettle in the Hoosier state.

“The governor of Indiana believes, though without evidence, that some of these persons were sent to Syria by ISIS to engage in terrorism and now wish to infiltrate the United States in order to commit terrorist acts here. No evidence of this belief has been presented, however; it is nightmare speculation,” the court wrote in a six-page ruling.

Exodus Refugee Immigration – an Indiana-based group which has provided help to refugees and those immigrating to the U.S. – won a lower court battle with a preliminary injunction being granted against the Pence administration months ago after Pence directed state agencies to stop the cash flow of federal dollars.

The judges noted in their ruling that unless they affirmed the lower court’s injunction, Exodus might not receive the funds it needs to continue its work.

The court goes on to write:

In fiscal year 2015 Exodus received roughly $1 million from the state for provision of social services and used the money to help 892 refugees, none of them Syrian. It expected to get a hundred or more Syrian refugees the next year, which would be this year, but we don’t know how many it’s gotten so far. We know that 174 Syrian refugees came to Indiana in the last fiscal year, but not how many of them are being helped by Exodus. But we do know for certain that Exodus will receive nothing from the state for Syrian refugees this year unless we affirm the preliminary injunction. Without the injunction, Exodus, if unable (as it fears) to obtain the necessary funds from another source, will be unable to provide essential assistance to the refugees. Most of them may therefore decide to resettle in other states––exactly what the governor of Indiana wants – in the face of the statutory provision we cited that forbids a state in distributing funds received from the federal government under 8 U.S.C. § 1522(a)(5) to discriminate on the basis of “race, religion, nationality, sex, or political opinion” (emphasis added).

The court essentially found that the Pence administration could not legally withhold federal dollars from these agencies that helps those immigrating to the country.

Pence’s administration had argued in a brief, the court noted, that Indiana has a “compelling interest in protecting its residents from the well‐documented threat of terrorists posing as refugees to gain entry into Western countries.”

But the court went on to state that the brief “provides no evidence that Syrian terrorists are posing as refugees or that Syrian refugees have ever committed acts of terrorism in the United States.”

He argues that his policy of excluding Syrian refugees is based not on nationality and thus is not discriminatory, but is based solely on the threat he thinks they pose to the safety of residents of Indiana. But that’s the equivalent of his say‐ ing (not that he does say) that he wants to forbid black people to settle in Indiana not because they’re black but because he’s afraid of them, and since race is therefore not his motive he isn’t discriminating. But that of course would be racial discrimination, just as his targeting Syrian refugees is discrimination on the basis of nationality.

Kara Brooks, a spokeswoman for the Gov. Pence, did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

But last month, she told I-Team 8:

The Governor’s position has not changed. 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 the Pence 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.

Marwan Batman, a Syrian refugee who resettled in Indiana in 2014, told I-Team 8 during a September interview that he was saddened by the state’s position. Batman, who works an international market in Fishers, fled the war-torn Syria with his family in 2014 after the fighting between the government and opposition forces cost him his home and his business.

“I lost everything except his mom and sister. I lost a home,” Batman said, speaking through a translator. When asked if they were bombed? The translator said: “Yes.”

When asked directly about his opinion of the Pence’s administration’s stance on Syrian refugees, Batman said: “I was really sad. And (I) felt sorry for my friends and family because there is no place to go,” he said.

On Monday afternoon, the spokeswoman for Mike Pence released this statement:

The safety and security of the people of Indiana is Governor Pence’s highest priority. The state of Indiana took decisive action last year to suspend resettlement of Syrian refugees after the terrorist attack in Paris and because the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged security gaps with regard to screening refugees from Syria. In addition, as recently as September 21, the State Department spokesman is quoted as saying he ‘wouldn’t debate the fact that there’s the potential for ISIS terrorists to try to insert themselves’ into the refugee program.”