Pence asks archbishop not to resettle Syrian refugees

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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has a Roman Catholic archbishop not to bring a Syrian refugee family into the state, Pence said Wednesday after the two met privately.

Pence spent about an hour at his Statehouse office with Archbishop of Indianapolis Joseph Tobin amid a dispute over the Republican governor's order blocking state agencies from assisting Syrian refugees in response to the deadly Paris attacks last month. One Syrian family being resettled by another refugee group was redirected to Connecticut as a result.

Pence was among 30 governors who asked the federal government to stop the resettlement of Syrian refugees until security concerns can be addressed.

The meeting happened a day after the archdiocese said it had donors willing to pay for the resettlement of a Syrian refugee family expected to arrive in Indiana later this month after a two-year vetting process.

"We had a good conversation today with Catholic Charities and I'm hopeful that they'll respect our wishes," Pence told The Associated Press after the meeting, adding he was "grateful" for the meeting.

Tobin said the meeting focused on "issues of compassion and security," but would not say whether the archdiocese will still try to locate the family in the Indianapolis area like he previously called for.

The debate 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 on Wednesday said he sent a letter to the Indiana Congressional Delegation "urging them to pause the Syrian refugee program and enact legislation that will address safety and security concerns so Indiana can renew its participation."
“My highest duty and first responsibility is to ensure the safety and security of the people of our state,” Pence said in a written statement. "Furthermore, I have not directed that Indiana’s participation in the Syrian refugee program be permanently halted.  This is a suspension of participation that we look forward to lifting once the federal government can make proper assurances to the state regarding the security of the program and addressing the concerns raised by federal officials.”

The Obama administration has said the vetting process for refugee resettlements is thorough and that states lack legal authority to block the funding. But Pence said Wednesday that in the wake of the attacks, he can't justify the making an exception for the Syrian family.

"There are significant gaps in our ability to know precisely what we need to know about everyone coming into this country," he said. But he pointed out that since his executive order was issued last month, 28 refugees from Burma and the Congo have settled in the state.

Tobin said that he would "give serious consideration to what (Pence) said. He declined to offer details on the conversation but said there was "no blood on the floor."

"My first consideration is not to objectify the family and make them an object of notoriety," Tobin said. "They are human beings … Our desire is to respect human beings."

Also Wednesday, Indianapolis-based Exodus Refugee Immigration requested a temporary hold on Pence's order. In a federal court filing, the organization said Pence's action would "frustrate and thwart" its mission of helping refugees and that it would be difficult to make up the lost government funding.

States are given federal funding to distribute to refugees, including money for housing, food stamps and refugee Medicaid, which they receive for eight months.

Exodus filed a federal lawsuit last week challenging Pence's order.

A judge is scheduled to talk Monday with attorneys from both sides to set a hearing on the group's request for a temporary injunction.

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