ACLU asks for victory on behalf of Syrian refugees and advocates


August 24, 2017

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INDIANAPOLIS -- The ACLU of Indiana filed a motion for summary judgement to finalize its victory on behalf of Syrian refugees seeking protection from war and deprivation. In 2015, the state of Indiana, under then Governor Mike Pence, attempted to prevent Syrian refugees from entering the state of Indiana by denying funding to agencies serving the refugees. The ACLU, on behalf of Exodus Refugee Immigration, successfully prevented the state's unconstitutional actions.

"Withholding funding from Exodus was an attempt to discriminate against particular refugees because of their nationality," says Ken Falk, Legal Director of the ACLU of Indiana. "Refugees coming into this country are extensively vetted and the state of Indiana provided no evidence to warrant usurping the federal government's authority or throwing aside constitutional protections. We are asking the courts to put this to rest."

In November of 2015, the ACLU of Indiana and the ACLU national filed a suit on behalf of Exodus Refugee after then Governor Pence issued an executive order to halt funding for the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana. On October 3 of 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling in favor of Exodus.

In part, the ruling says that the state on behalf of the governor "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 saying (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."

"The constitution prohibits states from discriminating on the basis of national origin or religion," says Jane Henegar, Executive Director of the ACLU of Indiana. "The ACLU asks the courts to protect the rights of all, especially those made vulnerable by war and deprivation."

"While this case is but one victory in an ongoing campaign to fight back against religious and ethnic discrimination, it is an important one for Indiana and the many refugees that now call this state home," says Cole Varga, Executive Director of Exodus Refugee.

Exodus Refugee Immigration is a nonprofit corporation that receives federal money through the state's Office of Refugee Programs, located within the Family and Social Services Administration, to assist in resettlement of federally approved and screened refugees. The funds that they receive are used to assist with employment training, English language education and other services. Exodus settled 947 refugee arrivals in 2016, and 242 Syrian refugees in total since October of 2014.

The case, Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc. v. Mike Pence, Case No. 1:15-cv-1858, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division, on Nov. 23, 2015 and was decided on Oct. 3, 2016.

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