Photo by Chip Somodevilla

Mike Pence Tried to Keep Syrian Refugees out of Indiana. The Courts Said Otherwise

Just in time for the debates, Pence got owned by the legal system

As Donald Trump’s vice-presidential pick Mike Pence hunkered down to prepare for tonight’s debate with Tim Kaine, unwelcome news surely entered the confines of his war room. In an intriguingly timed unanimous decision, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed yesterday that the state of Indiana could not deny funds to help resettle Syrian refugees and specifically called out Pence for his fear-based “nightmare speculation.”

While Pence will surely try to spin the news as big government getting in the way of defending the homeland, in truth the evolution of the case, Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc. vs. Pence, should already tell Americans everything they need to know about the kind of guy Pence is (in a word: racist). The court’s final decision compared Pence’s arguments to those of an old-fashioned redlining bigot:

“He argues that his policy of excluding Syrian refugees is based not on nationality and thus is not discriminatory, but is based solely on the threat he thinks they pose to the safety of residents of Indiana. But that’s the equivalent of his saying (not that he does say) that he wants to forbid black people to settle in Indiana not because they’re black but because he’s afraid of them.”

The ruling brings to conclusion a case that goes back to three days after the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, when Pence announced he would be suspending the resettlement of Syrian refugees “to ensure the safety and security of all Hoosiers.” (It’s worth noting that this same reasoning — mistaking refugees fleeing terror as the makers of terror — is what blocked Anne Frank’s family from entering the United States when they attempted to escape the Nazis). Refusing to allow refugees into your state after they’ve already been admitted to the country violates the 14th Amendment, so Trump’s VP selection instead blocked funding to refugee support groups.

Pence’s efforts kept a grand total of one family out of Indiana; they settled in Connecticut instead. Then the state was sued and the directive was overturned, and 140 Syrian refugees were allowed to enter. Now Pence has been told on a federal level that he cannot block funds to refugee groups just because he is scared of brown people. “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,” says the ruling. “No evidence of this belief has been presented, however; it is nightmare speculation.”

According to the Chicago Tribune, Indiana’s main argument was that Syrians are risky because the FBI has said the U.S. lacks intelligence on Syria. Not that it lacks data on the individual Syrians approved by the State Department to immigrate to the United States, just that Syria itself is pretty far away and thus kinda blurry. “When a state targets a policy against people from Syria and says it has nothing to do with national origin, it produces nothing but a broad smile,” Judge Frank Easterbrook chided Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher, who represented Pence.

Fisher insisted that Indiana wished to block Syrians from resettling because of terrorism, not because of their religion or place of origin. He listed a number of terrorist attacks that just happened to involve only Muslims, a pattern Judge Richard Posner seized on. When questioned, Fisher said that the ban “had nothing to do with religion.” At this, Posner rolled his eyes so hard it could be seen in Aleppo. “You are so out of it,” Posner said. “You don’t think there are dangers from other countries?”

The decision went further, saying that “as far as can be determined from public sources, no Syrian refugees have been arrested or prosecuted for terrorists acts or attempts in the United States.” Pence’s whole argument hinged on the dangers posed by Syrian refugees, namely that some of their number might be ISIS terrorists disguised as refugees. But, according to the 7th Circuit’s decision, the governor’s brief “provides no evidence that Syrian terrorists are posing as refugees or that Syrian refugees have ever committed acts of terrorism in the United States.” Essentially, Pence did not put up, and thus has been remanded to shut up.

Since a district court struck down Pence’s order in February of this year, more than 100 refugees from Syria have resettled in Indiana, according to Exodus. And the Obama administration said Wednesday that the U.S. will strive to take in a total of 110,000 refugees this year, a 30 percent increase from 2015. Bloomington, Indiana has been approved by the State Department to take in close to 20 families next year. “We’ve had 200 people very eager to help,” Bloomington Refugee Support Network chair Diane Legomsky told the Indiana Daily Student.

This is only one of the menaces from which Mike Pence has sought to protect his state. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act protected bakers from having to make gay cakes, as well as protecting Indiana from $60 million in business deals with more open-minded corporations. Just last week Pence protected the judicial process by flatly refusing to pardon a man who had been wrongfully convicted. And when Pence first ran for national office back in 1988, he protected his Indiana home from foreclosure by paying his mortgage with campaign funds.