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ACLU files suit against Pence

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The ACLU of Indiana and the national American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court Monday afternoon. 

The case, filed on behalf of Exodus Refugee Immigration, claims Gov. Mike Pence and the Family and Social Services Administration violated the U.S. Constitution as well as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by denying support for Syrian refugees planned for resettlement in Indiana. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the governor from taking any actions to suspend, block or withhold aid from refugees or from Exodus.

As an agent of the World Church Service, Exodus provides direct assistance to refugees screened and vetted by federal officials for resettlement. The state provides assistance to Exodus through the Office of Refugee Programs, an office within FSSA, which receives federal assistance from the Office of Refugee Resettlement of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That funding is used for resources such as English language education, job training, SNAP benefits and other services.

The lawsuit claims the FSSA and Pence have violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving financial assistance form the federal government.

"The actions taken by Governor Pence to block Syrian refugees from entering the State of Indiana are not in line with Hoosier or American values," said Carleen F. Miller, Exodus Refugee Immigration executive director. "Indiana is a welcoming state known for our hospitality. History will judge us in this moment - whether we take the moral stand for victims of war and persecution in their time of need or reject our core principles by giving in to fear and terror."

After Gov. Pence announced the state would "suspend" the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana, FSSA officials sent a letter to Exodus asking the agency to suspend its resettlement programs. A family that had been waiting in Jordan for three years was expected in Indianapolis in the following few days. Exodus worked with another WCS agency in Connecticut to have the family relocated.

Miller announced Monday that Exodus would resume it work with all refugees including those expected from Syria. The agency is planning to receive up to 19 Syrian refugees in Indiana in the next few weeks and months.

"There is no border around the state of Indiana that prevents people from entering our state who may move freely within the United States," said ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk. "Decisions concerning immigration and refugee resettlement are exclusively the province of the federal government, and attempts to pre-empt that authority violate both equal protection and civil rights laws and intrude on authority that is exclusively federal."

The national ACLU is assisting the ACLU of Indiana in this lawsuit. The suit is the first of its kind since 27 governors, including Pence, announced plans to stand in the way of Syrian refugee resettlement.

"This lawsuit is calling out Governor Pence on his unconstitutional bluff," said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy legal director of ACLU's immigrants' rights project. "He does not have the power to pick and choose between which lawfully admitted refugees he is willing to accept. Singling out Syrian refugees for exclusion from Indiana is not only ethically wrong, it is unconstitutional. Period."

The governors sent a letter to President Obama insisting on the suspension of Syrian refugee resettlement until “an exhaustive review of all security measures has been completed.” The request mirrored legislation that the House of Representatives passed on a 289-137 vote. Senate minority leader Harry Reid has vowed to block the legislation.

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