refugees leaving HungaryUnsurprisingly, the ACLU has jumped into the controversy over the Obama administration’s announced intent to bring in an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees in the current fiscal year. The issue has arisen in Indiana where Governor Mike Pence has asked the administration not to send any of the new Syrian refugees to the state.

The ACLU has filed its suit against the governor on behalf of Exodus Refugee Immigration, Inc. According to a local Indiana news outlet, WNDU.com, the organization is “a nonprofit corporation that receives federal money through the state’s Office of Refugee Programs … to assist in resettlement of federally approved and screened refugees.” Thus, they have a financial stake in receiving an additional flow of refugees to settle in the state.

The ACLU argues that the state has no right to limit the settlement of refugees in the state. According to a spokesperson for the ACLU, “He does not have the power to pick and choose between which lawfully admitted refugees he is willing to accept. Singling out Syrian refugees for exclusion from Indiana is not only ethically wrong, it is unconstitutional. Period.”

This lawsuit will likely bring into focus the issue of whether there is in fact a requirement for the government to adjust its refugee resettlement program to take into consideration the concerns of the state governments, as provided for in the law. Can a state government limit refugee resettlement on the basis of public concerns over terrorism or over the fiscal costs or the impact on the community school systems? Or, is the consultation with state governments only window dressing?

This issue of the role of state governments in the refugee resettlement process is only one of the issues currently highlighted by the surge of Middle Easterners fleeing fighting. The other is whether the federal legislative branch has the ability to place limits on the executive branch’s plans for admitting refugees without resorting to showdown over funding for the program. Once again the battle lines are drawn between an imperial president and a legislative branch focused on checking the president’s overreach. But past performance is no guarantee of future failure.