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Judge Blocks Indiana Governor’s Order Barring Syrian Refugees

1 Mar

(Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Monday blocked Indiana Governor Mike Pence’s order barring state officials from helping Syrian refugees resettle in the state, saying it was discriminatory.

Pence was among more than 25 U.S. governors, mostly Republicans, who called on President Barack Obama to stop resettling refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war after November attacks by militants in Paris that killed 130.

Governors have cited concerns that some refugees could be associated with Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc was among the first challenging governors’ moves to block resettlement.

“The State’s conduct clearly discriminates against Syrian refugees based on their national origin,” U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt said in a ruling granting the preliminary injunction.

She added that withholding federal grant money from Exodus did not advance Indiana officials’ assertions that they were barring refugees for safety reasons.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller plans to appeal the decision and will seek a stay of Pratt’s order, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

The ACLU had contended that decisions on immigration and refugee resettlement were exclusively the province of the federal government and could not be dictated by state officials.

Indiana had argued that Exodus, a nonprofit that gets federal money to resettle refugees, lacked standing to assert refugees’ rights.

The U.S. State Department said in November that a refugee family that had been headed to Indiana was relocated to Connecticut, but did not specify the family’s country of origin.

After the Paris attacks, the Obama administration stood by its pledge to admit some 10,000 refugees to the United States over the following year.

Refugee advocates have noted that candidates for resettlement go through extensive background checks, taking up to two years, before reaching the United States.