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Minnesota expected to see significant drop in refugee admissions in 2018

REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan
When President Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries, it led to a dramatic reduction in refugee admissions in Minnesota and across the country.

Resettlement officials in Minnesota are expecting a drastic decrease in the number of primary refugee admissions during the 2018 fiscal year.   

Last year, the U.S. Department of State notified the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) that the state’s preliminary approved refugee placement for 2018 was to be 1,385. That figure was based on a projected 50,000-person limit that President Trump set as part of the so-called travel ban executive order signed shortly after he took office. That limit slashed by more than half the planned 110,000 refugees expected to arrive in 2017.   

Then, in September, the administration further reduced the initial 50,000-person cap to 45,000 — which means that Minnesota will actually receive fewer than the previously anticipated 1,385 refugees by the end of this year.

To determine the exact figure, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population Refugee and Migration “will be working to revise and decrease” the preliminarily approved resettlement number, DHS told MinnPost. 

Meanwhile, some leaders from local refugee resettlement agencies — like International Institute of Minnesota in St. Paul — are trying to predict what those numbers might be. “It’s definitely going to be lower than last year,” said Micaela Schuneman, director of refugee services at the institute. “We’re hoping to resettle between 250 and 300 refugees this year.”

More refugees, fewer admissions 

Since Congress created the Refugee Resettlement Program in 1980, the U.S. government — in collaboration with international humanitarian organizations and national social service agencies — has resettled about 3 million refugees from around the world. 

Over the decades, the annual intake of refugees has remained fluid. That’s because refugee admissions have increased or decreased depending on events in other parts of the world. In 1980, for example, the government opened its doors to more than 200,000 refugees as wars and political unrest took hold in some parts of Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. In the years that followed, those regions stabilized — and the number of refugee admissions from the areas dropped drastically. 

Today, according to the United Nations’ refugee agency, UNHCR, the world’s refugee population has reached more than 22 million, the largest the world has seen since World War II.    

But the Trump administration has reduced the number of refugee admissions and halted refugee arrivals from several countries, including Somalia, Iran, Libya and Syria. “The need for refugee resettlement is increasing, but our capacity to help is decreasing based on the U.S. commitment to helping refugees decreasing,” said International Institute of Minnesota’s Schuneman. “We’re not resettling fewer refugees because there are fewer people who need help.”

Not everyone is unhappy about the reduction in refugee admissions in Minnesota, though. Linda Huhn, a member of NumbersUSA, a group that advocates for reduced immigration numbers, says closing the door to foreigners is good for the state. “I believe our country should help [refugees],” Huhn said. “But I don’t think the answer to everything that’s going on in the world is bringing people into the United States. I don’t believe that everybody in the whole world has a birthright to come to the United States.”

Instead of pouring resources into immigration and refugee resettlement programs, Huhn added, the government should help poor, homeless and unemployed Americans become financially independent.

‘Dismantling’ refugee resettlement program   

Huhn’s wish to block or interrupt the stream of immigrants and refugees into the state came true last January, when Trump signed an executive order that banned travelers from several predominantly Muslim countries, reduced the number of refugees and imposed new burdens on visa applicants. 

Those policies have led to the dramatic reduction in refugee admissions in Minnesota and across the country during the first year of his presidency, 2017, when Minnesota resettled 1,623 refugees, compared to the admission of more than 3,000 people in 2016.  

Much of the reduction in the number of refugee resettlement has to do with a 120-day refugee suspension that began on June 29 and the banning of travelers from several Muslims-majority countries, some of which have sent some of the highest numbers of refugees to Minnesota over the last decade. It also has to do with what followed after the suspension expired in October: The administration announced that it’s put in place new restrictions and vetting requirements. 

Those requirements, say immigration advocates, could “effectively dismantle” the refugee resettlement program. For example, Schuneman noted, the Follow to Join process, which allows eligible U.S. residents to bring their spouses and children to the U.S., is now on hold indefinitely.   

On top of that, she added, the administration is increasing security checks for refugee applicants, especially those from several predominantly Muslim countries. Schuneman said that such scrutiny is expected to either add longer wait times to the overall resettlement process or make it difficult for people come to the country.     

“Even though the number of refugees who need our assistance is continuing to rise,” said Schuneman, “the number of people our country and our state will resettle is going to drop … because we’re not being allowed to help them resettle here.” 

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