Group helping family to resettle says Mike Pence does not have right to turn refugees away, but state ‘indicated they wouldn’t provide services’ to Syrians
A family of Syrian refugees destined for resettlement in Indiana was denied entry to the state and instead began a new life in Connecticut on Wednesday.
The family of three – a mother, father and their five-year-old son – had been waiting three years to move to Indiana before their placement was changed, a consequence of the growing tensions in the wake of the Paris attacks that Syrian refugees could pose a threat to national security.
The governor of Indiana, Mike Pence, is one of at least 30 governors who have said they do not want to resettle Syrian refugees in their state even though they do not have the authority to refuse to do so.
Rather than starting a new life in Indianapolis, the family will settle in New Haven, Connecticut.
Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy welcomed the family to his state with open arms. “It’s the right thing for us to do to respond to this tragedy,” Malloy said during a press conference on Wednesday. “We have an obligation to the other nations of the world to do our part.”
Carleen Miller, the executive director of Exodus Refugee Immigration in Indianapolis, which was helping to resettle the family, said she did not have to re-route the family but felt that it was the best option given the legal uncertainty. The family had been living in Jordan after fleeing Homs in Syria.
Miller said she had received a letter on Tuesday from the head of Indiana’s division of family resources that said the state sought to “suspend or redirect” all Syrian refugees to other states that were willing to accept them.
“While that’s not the governor’s purview to do that they indicated at the state level that they wouldn’t provide services,” Miller told the Guardian. “We were not sure what it would mean for this family and we didn’t want them to be caught in the eye of the storm and not receive the services and benefits that they needed.”
This was an 11th-hour exception, Miller said, and will not become the rule, no matter the governor’s stance. She said several religious groups have offered financial assistance to supplement whatever resources the state withholds.
“In the future we, as part of the resettlement community across the US, intend to proceed with the resettlement process as planned,” she said. “We didn’t want to set a precedent. It was just the first case coming into the US [since the backlash began] and we had such a short window of time.”
Barack Obama earlier hit back at Republicans who want to stop the US taking in Syrian refugees, saying some of the language used in the wake of the Paris attacks only serves to strengthen the Islamic State terror group.
Obama rounded on Republicans in Congress who are preparing legislation that threatens to suspend a US refugee program for Syrians, and on state governors who have said threatened to try to block the refugees’ entry. The Obama administration has revealed details of its screening system to reassure sceptical lawmakers worried about terrorist infiltration.
Obama, speaking in the Philippines where is attending a regional summit, said: “We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks.
“I cannot think of a more potent recruitment tool for Isil [Isis] than some of the rhetoric that’s been coming out of here during the course of this debate.
“And I would add, these are the same folks who suggested they’re so tough that just ‘talk to Putin’ or staring down Isil [will work] … but they are scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion.”