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Despite court rulings, Pence stands by effort to block Syrian refugees

Gov. Mike Pence continues to defend his bid to block Syrian refugees from settling in Indiana despite receiving a second rebuke from a federal court on Monday.

“After two Syrian refugees were involved in the attack in Paris that is called “Paris’ 9/11,” you bet I suspended that program,” Pence said during Tuesday night’s vice presidential debate with Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine. “I stand by that decision.”

Pence also said that he and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump are both committed to suspending the federal government’s Syrian refugee program.

The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that Pence has produced no evidence that terrorists are posing as Syrian refugees and thus present a real danger. The justices likened the governor’s targeting of Syrian refugees bound for his state to discrimination based on nationality.

“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,” the three-judge panel said. “No evidence of this belief has been presented; it is nightmare speculation.”

The 7th Circuit panel upheld an earlier federal district judge’s decision to grant a preliminary injunction in favor of the plaintiff that brought suit against Pence, Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc.

Asked if the Indiana governor would appeal this week’s decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks told AMI Newswire in an email, “We are continuing to evaluate the ruling.”

Brooks said this week in a prepared statement, “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.”

Pence has cited statements from federal law enforcement officials that current screening processes cannot guarantee against terrorists infiltrating the Syrian refugee population. 

This week’s court decision acknowledges that, “Of course there can be no certainty that no terrorist will ever slip through the screen, elaborate though it is."

The judges also concluded that no Syrian refugees have ever been arrested or prosecuted for acts of terrorism in the United States. Several adults who have entered the U.S. through its refugee program, however, have been convicted of terrorist offenses, according to  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Leon Rodriguez.

“A final oddity about the governor’s position is how isolated it is,” the court decision said. “There are after all 50 states, and nothing to suggest that Indiana is a magnet for Syrians. Although in the fall of 2015 a number of state governors issued statements opposing the resettlement of Syrians in their domains, their opposition has petered out.”

Political fallout from the appeals court’s decision quickly spread to the gubernatorial election campaign in Indiana to replace Pence. The Republican candidate and Pence’s chosen successor, Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, said this week that he would respect the 7th Circuit’s ruling.

“I would continue to allow the refugees to come in here and find safe haven,” Holcomb said following a debate with his Democratic and Libertarian rivals.

Indiana-based Exodus Refugee Immigration plans to settle nearly 900 refugees during the next fiscal year, including 19 Syrians, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which filed the federal lawsuit on Exodus’ behalf.

“The Court of Appeals’ decision underscores what we have said throughout this litigation,” said Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, in a prepared statement. “Gov. Pence may not constitutionally or legally discriminate against a particular nationality of refugees that are extensively vetted by the federal government.”

Unlike Texas, which last month opted out of the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program, Indiana has remained in the federal program while trying to block those it felt could pose a terrorism threat.

As the justices noted this week, Indiana would be free to withdraw from the federal program as well, but federal officials have vowed to continue resettling refugees in Texas through an alternative program by working directly with nonprofit aid agencies. The same situation could occur in Indiana if that state pulled out, the court decisions said.

President Obama has promised to settle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the United States during the current fiscal year.