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If Indiana order stands, charity will settle Syrian family

December 1, 2015

A religious charity said it will finance a Syrian refugee family's arrival in Indiana — even if Gov. Mike Pence does not drop his order blocking state agencies from distributing federal funds intended to help settle refugees.

But the family, which has spent the past three years in a Jordanian refugee camp, may ultimately be placed in another state if Indiana is perceived as "hostile" or "unwelcoming," Archdiocese of Indianapolis spokesman Greg Otolski said Tuesday.

"These families are already under an incredible amount of stress," Otolski said of the family's anticipated arrival later this month. "What we don't want to do is traumatize these people any more than they have already been traumatized."

The debate over settling Syrian refugees in Indiana puts Pence, who frequently touts his Christian faith and has cultivated a reputation as a defender of religious values, in the awkward spot of being at odds with a major faith-based organization.

Pence spokesman Matt Lloyd said the governor has not shifted his stance and blamed the administration of President Barack Obama for failing to "provide adequate security and background information to governors across the country."

"The Obama Administration ... continues to ignore the concerns raised about the program," Lloyd said in a written statement.

More than half of U.S. states, most with Republican governors and Indiana included, have objected to the arrival of the Syrian immigrants without assurances of property security measures in place following the deadly attacks in Paris. The Obama administration has said the vetting process for refugee resettlements is thorough and that states lack legal authority to block the funding.

But the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration sent letters last month to Exodus Refugee Immigration in Indianapolis and Catholic Charities Indianapolis, saying plans to accept two Syrian families should be halted. One Syrian family was rerouted to Connecticut as a result.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sued Pence last month, asking a federal judge to block the governor's order.

Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin has publicly called for the family of four to be settled in the Indianapolis area, though Otolski said the archdiocese wants to focus on the plight of the refugees and avoid an overtly political debate.

Otolski said the family underwent an intense two-year vetting process, and noted that they are "fleeing the same kind of violence from terrorists that all of us are trying to avoid." Thus far, state welfare officials have been "friendly" in conversations about moving forward with plans to settle the family, Otolski said, but a decision has not yet been reached.

"Nobody here should have any concerns that this family of a husband and wife and two small children pose any kind of danger," he said.

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