Staff Reports - INDIANAPOLIS (WISH/AP) - Indiana Governor Mike Pence called on state agencies to stop accepting Syrian refugees until he can have "absolute assurance" from the federal government that background checks can confirm their "identities and intentions."
Pence joined a chorus of other governors from at least 18 states on Monday that said they would no longer accept Syrian refugees. Pence's office said his decision came in direct response to the terrorist attacks on Paris and word that at least one Syrian refugee could be connected to the attacks.
"I thought it was appropriate for us to take immediate steps to suspend any further Syrian refugees from coming into the state of Indiana until we receive the absolute assurance that the kind of background checks we anticipate from every country in the world could be effectuated in this case," Pence told 24 Hour News 8. "It may not be possible. Syria is a worn-torn country and frankly has a history of exporting terrorism across the region. The fact that the FBI director said a month ago there were significant gaps in the ability to check individuals, I thought it was appropriate for us to take immediate steps to suspend any further placement of Syrian refugees into the state of Indiana."
Pence is right. It may not be possible for states to take a direct course of action in thwarting the influx of immigrants. Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, told reporters Monday during a media briefing that the department is still committed to bringing in Syrian refugees.
"We feel very strongly that we have a process that allows for the safe resettlement of Syrian refugees. We stand by that process. It's rigorous. It's effective," Toner said. "It allows ome of these most vulnerable victims a chance for a new life so we are going to continue to push that push on that policy going forward to alleviate these communities' concerns."
While Pence's remarks were met with some praise on social media, members of the Islamic community in central Indiana and those with direct ties to the immigrants rebuked the governor's call.
"We think it's a real shame. The people of Syria have been the victims of Isis. And They are coming to the United States to escape that type of brutality and mindset not to propagate it even further," said Hazem Bata, Secretary General of the Islamic Society of North America based in Plainfield, Ind.
Since 2010, Indiana has taken in roughly 40 Syrian refugees, according to figures provided by the state's Family and Social Services Administration, which is responsible for providing government assistance to many of the refugees resettling in Indiana.
"20 of those came in federal fiscal year 2015 - meaning between 10/1/2014 and 9/30/2015. All of them receive assistance from state government to get settled, as well as assistance from one of the two refugee relief organizations in the state, Catholic Charities and Exodus. Indiana's number of Syrian refugees is significantly lower than most of our neighbor states, as Indiana currently accepts refugees primarily from Burma. This announcement will not impact refugees from any other countries, and there will be no impact on the Syrian refugees currently in Indiana," according to an email from Marni Lemon, an FSSA spokeswoman.
Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc. and Catholic Charities, two agencies that work directly with those migrating to Indiana released statements opposing the governor's efforts.
"We are disheartened by Gov. Pence's call for a suspension of Syrian refugee resettlement in Indiana. This is a misplaced reaction to the recent attacks in Paris - one that is not based in fact but in fear. It is a reaction that blames the very people fleeing ISIS and puts them at further risk," according to a statement released by Exodus director Carleen Miller.
"We hope that any concerns Governor Pence has concerning Syrian refugees be resolved quickly because the lives of so many families are at risk. Thousands of refugees from the Middle East, primarily from Syria, have been fleeing their homeland due to the barbaric acts by terrorists - the same groups responsible for recent terrorist acts in other parts of the world. Regardless of their religious affiliation, refugees from Syria deserve our respect, care and protection from this horrible persecution," said Heidi Smith, who is director of refugee services for Catholic Ministries.
Governors of other states have also declared a ban or expressed concern. Click here for a look at where various states stand.
In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker said he is "not interested" in accepting Syrian refugees. Gov. Baker simply said Monday that he would need more information before accepting refugees here. He said at this time he is not completely refusing the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
Senator Dan Coats released the following statement on social media:
I support Indiana Governor Mike Pence's decision to suspend the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Indiana. While the United States is a compassionate and welcoming country, our government has an obligation to protect American citizens. We should not accept any Syrian refugees in Indiana or across the country unless the U.S. government can guarantee, with 100 percent assurance, that they are not members, supporters or sympathizers of ISIS.
In a press conference on Monday President Barack Obama however said, it is wrong to associate the attacks with the people in Syria and Iraq. He said it was "shamful" for political leaders to call for imposing a religious test on refuges.
Obama also said that people fleeing Syria are the ones more harmed by terrorism.
Second Congressional District Representative, Jackie Walorski, issued the following statement after Pence made his announcement:
I applaud Governor Pence for his leadership on prioritizing the safety and security of Hoosiers. As the world continues to come to terms with the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday, the threat of extremist attacks looms over the United States. While millions of Syrians, including women, children, and orphans have endured immense hardships, current State Department mechanisms are inadequate because often no paperwork exists, and since they are arriving from a failed state in Syria, it is nearly impossible to determine who is a threat and who is safe. My responsibility is to ensure the safety of the people of the Second District and it's in our best interests to halt the program until we have more information on who these refugees are and how the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI plans to track these individuals.Additional reporting by I-Team 8's Bennett Haeberle.