Indianapolis, Ind., Oct 6, 2016 / 04:20 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Indiana Governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Mike Pence’s bid to keep Syrian refugees out of his state was blocked by a federal appeals court this week.
The appeals court, made up of a panel of three well-known conservative judges, upheld a lower court’s decision, which said Pence was discriminating against Syrians by blocking them from receiving federal funds to resettle in his state. One member of the appeals court is on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court nominees.
In a unanimous decision, the appeals court said that Pence acted illegally by accepting federal funds to resettle refugees from other countries and denying them to Syrian refugees. In November 2015, Pence suspended state agencies’ involvement in the relocation of Syrian refugees following terrorist attacks that killed more than 120 people in Paris on Nov. 19, 2015.
This week, the federal appeals court said Pence’s security concerns regarding Syrian refugees are "nightmare speculation" based on no evidence. The court also said the state presented no evidence that any Syrian refugee had been involved in a terrorist act in the U.S.
Judge Richard Posner, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, wrote for the court that Pence’s refusal to resettle Syrians is still “discrimination on the basis of nationality." Judges Frank Easterbrook and Diane Sykes joined the decision. Sykes, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, is on Trump’s list of potential Supreme court nominees.
The decision came just one day before the vice presidential debate on Oct. 4, during which Pence said he stood by his policy to block Syrian refugees.
“As governor of the state of Indiana, I have no higher priority than safety and security of people in my state,” he said. “So you bet I suspended that program. And I stand by that decision.” He also said he would stand by similar policies as vice president, should he be elected. “Donald Trump and I are committed to suspending the Syrian refugee program and programs and immigration from areas of the world that have been compromised by terrorism,” Pence said.
Pence’s blockade of Syrian refugees almost impeded Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis from resettling a family in Dec. 2015. Pence identified in 1994 as a “born-again, evangelical Catholic.” He started attending an evangelical megachurch with his family in the 1990s, though it is unclear which church he attends now.
The Indianapolis archdiocese was asked to help settle the family through a public-private partnership program between the federal government, the U.S. bishops’ conference, and the conference’s Migration and Refugee Services office. The family had fled Syria three years prior, and had undergone the two-year refugee screening process and were approved for entry to the United States.
The archdiocese regularly participates in the program and the local Catholic Charities agency has resettled refugees for more than 40 years. Pence met with Archbishop Tobin for an hour to discuss the matter, saying that he respectfully disagreed with the proposal to resettle a Syrian family in Indiana. While Archbishop Tobin said he “prayerfully considered” Pence’s security concerns, he moved ahead with resettling the Syrian family in Indiana.
According to Crux, an aide to Pence said at the time that Pence hoped the people of Indiana would welcome the family, despite his objections. Pence also said on Twitter at the time that Donald Trump’s proposal to block all Muslims refugees from the United States was “offensive.”
Under the 1980 Refugee Act, the president determines how many refugees to admit into the United States each year based on humanitarian or other concerns or needs. In 2016, President Obama set the number at 85,000, including 10,000 Syrians. In late August of this year, the United States met its goal and admitted the 10,000th Syrian refugee, bringing the total number of Syrian refugees to 12,000 since the country’s civil war began five years ago.
Authorities say that of all refugees, Syrians must undergo the most intense screening process available in order to be approved to enter the United States; a process that typically takes between a year and a half to two years.
The Syrian civil war began in March 2011 with demonstrations against Assad. The war has claimed the lives of more than 280,000 people, and forced 4.8 million to become refugees. Another 8 million Syrians are believed to have been internally displaced by the violence. Approximately half of the displaced are Syrian children. The already dire situation in Syria has only worsened in recent days and weeks as an attempted ceasefire collapsed and other diplomatic efforts failed.
Catholic leaders in the city, including Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo, have made continual appeals to the international faith community for prayers and humanitarian aid.