The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a policy denying benefits to Syrian refugees was a form of national origin discrimination.
Governor Mike Pence enacted an Indiana policy that barred federal funds from being used to help Syrian refugees with social services, job training or medical help. These benefits were available to refugees from other countries. Governor Pence had argued that the exclusion of Syrian refugees was not discriminatory because it was not based on nationality. Rather, it was argued that these refugees pose a threat to the safety of Indiana’s residents. In the court’s opinion, it stated that this argument was: “the equivalent of his saying…that he wants to forbid black people to settle in Indiana not because they’re black but because he’s afraid of them, and since race is therefore not his motive he isn’t discriminating. But that of course would be racial discrimination, just as targeting Syrian refugees is discrimination on the basis of nationality.”
The court further noted that a central purpose of preventing discrimination was to prevent, in this case the government, from using stereotypes to justify wholesale discrimination against innocent people who share the same national origin. Both the conservative justices on the panel joined in the decision. This 7th Circuit opinion relied on a federal refugee statute that barred discrimination on the basis of nationality.