The vice presidential debate is just hours away, and after a major federal court decision, Mike Pence’s past Syrian refugee policies will almost certainly be raised by Tim Kaine.
Mike Pence is the 50th governor of Indiana, assuming the office in January 2013. He has been criticized for his handling of Syrian refugees, though his policy is likely to appeal to much of Donald Trump’s base while it angers much of Hillary Clinton’s.
Ahead of the VP debate, here’s what you need to know about Mike Pence and his Syrian refugee policy.
1. As Governor, He Tried to Keep Syrian Refugees Out of Indiana
As Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence attempted to keep Syrian refugees from entering his state. This was in response to the 2015 terrorist attack in Paris, France; in its aftermath, Pence directed state agencies to halt the resettlement of refugees in Indiana, according to the Washington Post. Pence said that these refugees – specifically refugees from Syria – posed a security risk.
This policy did not last long, though; according to the Post, one family of Syrian refugees was scheduled to come to Indiana but was instead sent to Connecticut because of Pence’s policy. But not long after, a private resettlement group called Exodus Refugee Immigration filed a lawsuit just days after he issued the order.
“You can’t pick and choose who comes to your state,” Executive Director of Exodus Refugee Immigration Cole Varga said at the time.
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2. Pence Would Refuse to Pay for Refugee Resettlement Services
The President of the United States, of course, has the authority to decide how many refugees can enter the country. He sets the number and then the Office of Refugee Resettlement works with resettlement agencies.
But under Pence’s policy, he would decline to use the money Indiana received from the federal government for resettlement services, specifically in cases where the refugees are from Syria, according to CNN. Refugees would still receive benefits like Medicare if they settled in Indiana, and the resettlement groups could still technically bring refugees in if they wanted to. But the state wouldn’t be paying for it, and the suspension of the funding was meant to act as a deterrent.
Pence argued he was using his powers are governor to protect those within his state and that states have the right to not participate in social-service programs.
“Governor Pence has merely suspended, in part, a discretionary federal grand program,” Indiana Attorney General Gregory F. Zoeller said, according to The Washington Post. “This is meant as a deterrent, but if those agencies wish to resettle those refugees regardless, the Governor will not take further actions to stop them.”
However, critics argued that Pence’s actions essentially amounted to a governor stopping people from entering his state, which he does not have the power to do, that this was an example of discrimination based on nationality, and that there is not clear evidence that Syrian refugees pose a serious threat to Indiana citizens.
3. A District Judge Struck Down Pence’s Order in February
In February of 2016, an Indiana district judge named Tanya Walton Pratt struck down Governor Pence’s order to prevent Syrian refugees from entering Indiana.
“The state’s conduct clearly constitutes national origin discrimination,” the judge said, according to the Indy Star.
The judge also said there is no evidence that not providing private resettlement groups with money that is intended for social services will make anyone in Indiana any safer.
In response to this ruling, Pence doubled down on his belief that his policy would keep Indiana residents safe. His administration appealed the judge’s 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,” Pence said in a statement.
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4. A Federal Court Also Ruled Against Pence
After that February 2016 decision, the case went to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which ruled on October 3rd that Pence’s policy is discriminatory and not constitutional. This was a major blow for Pence one day before his vice presidential debate.
Judge Posner also added that refugees coming from Syria are already subject to an extensive screening process and that there is no evidence of any Syrian refugee committing any terrorist act in the United States.
The three judges who made this decision are all conservatives, and one of them, Diane Sykes, is on Donald Trump’s list of potential Supreme Court justices, according to NPR.
5. Pence’s Administration Stands By Their Decision
In response to the recent court ruling, Mike Pence and his administration once again said that he was just acting to ensure the safety of his residents.
“The safety and security of the people of Indiana is Gov. Pence’s highest priority,” Pence’s spokesperson Kara Brooks said. “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. In addition, as recently as September 21, the State Department spokesman is quoted as saying he ‘wouldn’t debate the fact that there’s the potential for ISIS terrorists to try to insert themselves’ into the refugee program.”
Meanwhile, the ACLU celebrated the decision, calling it a “stinging rebuke of Gov. Mike Pence’s anti-refugee actions.”
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