A U.S. federal judge said Monday the north central state of Indiana cannot attempt to deter the resettlement of Syrian refugees, calling an order by Governor Mike Pence clearly discriminatory.
After the November terror attacks in Paris, Pence ordered state agencies to suspend funding for groups that help refugees in Indiana. He said the measures would be in place until he got assurances proper security measures were in place.
More than two dozen other states took similar stances while expressing fears about terrorism.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt said withholding funding for social services "in no way furthers the state's asserted interest in the safety of Indiana residents."
Her decision does not end the lawsuit brought by a group called Exodus Refugee Immigration, which expects to resettle nearly 200 Syrians in Indiana this year. But she said Exodus is likely to win, and thus blocked the state from continuing to suspend the funding.
Similar lawsuits are also pending in Pennsylvania, Texas and Alabama.
President Barack Obama has said the country will take in 85,000 refugees this year, with Syrians accounting for 10,000 of them. The refusal by some states - most with Republican governors - to accept Syrians drew attention to the process by which refugees are admitted to the U.S. But Obama and other officials defended the government's vetting efforts, saying the extensive process can take up to two years.
The federal government pays groups like Exodus directly for expenses to prepare for the refugees' arrival, including costs such as obtaining and furnishing a place for them to live.
Once the refugees are in Indiana, federal funds go through state agencies to pay for social services, including job training, cultural integration, adult English classes, medical assistance and school aid.
The governor's order blocks the first part of that list, but refugees can still get medical and school aid if they otherwise qualify.
Judge finds no harm to state
During the lawsuit, Indiana argued that the federal government is not fulfilling its responsibility to "consult regularly" with states to consider their views before placing refugees within their borders.
It said that without that support, the governor's directive "is part of a larger effort not only to deter resettlement of Syrian refugees without better background checks, but also to persuade the United States to consult more seriously with the states."
Judge Pratt rejected the state's arguments, saying the court "could hardly disagree more with the state's position." She said it is clear Exodus and its refugee clients will be harmed by the governor's order, while there is "near complete absence of harm to the state."
Governor Pence responded with a statement saying the state will seek an immediate stay and appeal of Monday's injunction. He also stood by his November decision.
"So long as the Obama administration continues to refuse to address gaps in the screening of Syrian refugees acknowledged by the FBI and a bipartisan majority in Congress, Hoosiers can be assured that my administration will continue to use every legal means available to suspend this program in Indiana unless and until federal officials take steps to ensure the safety and security of our citizens," he said.