IN Focus: Gov. Pence on Syrian refugees, LGBT rights debate

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INDIANAPOLIS (Nov. 22, 2015) --  A Syrian refugee family bound for Indiana had to be quickly diverted this past week after Gov. Mike Pence banned refugees from entering the state.

Officials believe it is the first true test nationwide of a policy dozens of governors have implemented since Friday's terror attacks in Paris.

The Indianapolis-based group Exodus Refugee Immigration received a letter Tuesday from the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration, saying that the arrival of the family expected Thursday must be suspended.

Read the letter here: FSSA letter to Exodus Refugee

“We would ask that you notify your national resettlement agency that the scheduled placement for the Syrian family scheduled to arrive this Thursday, November 19, and all subsequent Syrian arrivals be suspended or redirected to another state that is willing to accept Syrian placements until assurances that proper security measures are in place,” FSSA director Adrienne Shields said.

Exodus Refugee Immigration’s executive director Carleen Miller said she made the decision to find a new state for the family to arrive in.

"It was the most difficult thing I've ever had to do since I've been here for eight years," she told FOX59 in an interview Wednesday. "I think we wanted to push back and say this is not OK, but it was too quick of a time period, and we did not want this family caught in the middle of this."

The family of three, Miller said, fled Syria in 2011 and have been working to resettle in the United States since 2012.

"For three years, they've been in the U.S. process being vetted through a variety of security screenings," she said.

Miller said the New Haven-based Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services has agreed to take in the family who landed in the U.S. Wednesday.

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy held a press conference after meeting with the family Wednesday. He said the family had a 5-year-old son.

"I had the honor to meet a young refugee family, who otherwise was going to report to Indiana," said Gov. Malloy.

Gov. Malloy spoke about the process refugees family endured in order to come to the U.S., calling the process "exhaustive" and saying it could take anywhere from 12 to 18 months.  The governor said he told the family the U.S. was a good place made up of good people and that not every American was the same.

"They know they were diverted. They know they were unwelcome in another state," said Malloy.

Gov. Malloy discussed Gov. Pence's decision to band Syrian refugees following last week's attack in Paris.

"We're bigger than that. We're better than that," Malloy said in reference to other Republican governors banning refugee entry.

When asked if Gov. Pence had standing to make such a decision, Malloy referenced RFRA, stating "No, this is the same guy who signed a homophobic bill this spring."

On Monday, Pence told FOX59 in an interview the order was to ensure the safety of Hoosiers.

“Without the absolute assurance that Syrian refugees do not represent a threat to the state of Indiana, I think it’s appropriate for the state of Indiana to have suspended this program,” Pence said.

More than two dozen governors have made the move, although many question the authority of states to dictate a federal program.

On Thursday, the House is expected to vote on a measure that would increase background checks for Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

“I would also call on the administration in Washington to freeze this program,” Pence said.

On Tuesday, Obama administration officials held a conference call with governors, including Pence, explain refugees undergo rigorous screening and security.

A spokesperson for Pence said Wednesday the call did not change the policy, citing recent testimony from the FBI director say there are gaps in intelligence on the Syrian refugee program.

"Look the bottom line – we don’t know who these people are," Pence said Monday. "Without the absolute assurance that Syrian refugees do not represent a threat to the state of Indiana, I think it’s appropriate for the state of Indiana to have suspended this program."

Watch Gov. Malloy's press conference in its entirety below: