ACLU sues Indiana governor over refusal to resettle Syrian refugees

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence speaks during the Republican Jewish Coalition Spring Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada April 25, 2015. REUTERS/David Becker

(Reuters) - The American Civil Liberties Union on Monday sued Indiana Governor Mike Pence over his refusal to allow refugees fleeing Syria's civil war to resettle in the state, saying his position violates federal authority and the U.S. Constitution.

Pence is one of more than 25 U.S. governors, mostly Republicans, who have publicly called on President Barack Obama to stop resettling Syrian refugees following the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people.

The governors cited concerns that some refugees could be associated with Islamic State militants.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU said decisions concerning immigration and refugee resettlement are exclusively the province of the federal government and cannot be dictated by state officials.

"Attempts to pre-empt that authority violate both equal protection and civil rights laws and intrude on authority that is exclusively federal," ACLU of Indiana legal director Ken Falk said in a statement.

Pence could not immediately be reached for comment about the lawsuit, one of the first brought by the ACLU, which has promised legal action in many states where governors have said they will turn away Syrian refugees.

The U.S. State Department last week confirmed that a refugee family that had been headed to Indiana was relocated to Connecticut, but did not specify the country from which the family came.

The Obama administration has stood by its pledge to admit some 10,000 refugees into the United States over the next year despite calls by governors and congressional Republicans to stop the entry of Syrians fleeing a civil war in their homeland.

Refugee advocates note that candidates for resettlement go through extensive background checks, taking up to two years, before reaching the United States.

The lawsuit in Indiana was brought on behalf of Exodus Refugee Immigration Inc., a nonprofit corporation that receives federal money to help resettle refugees in the United States.

Thee United States admitted 1,682 Syrian refugees in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, up from 105 admitted the previous fiscal year. Legal experts have said governors do not appear to have legal authority to stop refugees from being settled in their states.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)