ACLU Says Governors can’t block Syrian Refugees

Syrian Refugees Immigration LawThe American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a lawsuit against Indiana Governor Michael Pence on behalf of Exodus Refugee Immigration, the non-profit that planned to help the Syrian family of three resettle in Indiana. ACLU claims that Mr. Pence violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights by refusing to allow refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war to resettle in Indiana.

Pence is one of the 31 United States governors who have publicly defied President Barack Obama, barring the resettlement of Syrian refugees following the November 13th terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people. The governors cited concerns of the possibility that refugees may be associated with the radical Islamic State, with concerned threats against the United States. Legally, these proclamations have little effect; states don’t have the authority to stop refugees from settling within their territory. They can, however, ask the State Department not to send refugees to their state and withhold funding to inhibit the progress of accumulation, learning English, attending schools, and finding jobs.

With its motto of “The Crossroads of America,” Indiana seemed a welcoming place, until Michael Pence issued a statement rejecting the refugees. “In the wake of the horrific attacks in Paris, effective immediately, I am directing all state agencies to suspend the resettlement of additional Syrian refugees in the state of Indiana pending assurances from the federal government that proper security measures have been achieved,” Governor Michael Pence announced on November 16th.

In the lawsuit, ACLU claims that decisions regarding immigration and refugee resettlement are the exclusively competence of the federal government and therefore cannot be dictated by state officials. The Equal Protection Clause of 1868 was an attempt to validate the equality provisions contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which guaranteed that all people would have equal rights, which were previously only bestowed to white citizens. The Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment in the United States Constitution asserts that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark civil rights law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

“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 the 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.”

Syrian refugees are fleeing the same type of terror and violence that befell in Paris on Friday, in limbo for years. Only 1,854 Syrian refugees were admitted to the US from 2012 to 2015, and president Obama announced plans in September to allow 10,000 more into the country. He held firm on that commitment this week. “Slamming the door in their face would be a betrayal of our values,” said president Obama, adding that the US is fully capable of vetting refugees.

By: Inna Vernikov Esq., an immigration attorney in NYC.