In the fine tradition of Minneapolis City Councils past and present, the current members have passed a public policy resolution that has nothing to do with their jurisdiction.
But it has everything to do with a group of Minneapolis residents who find themselves unable to send money to family and friends in Somalia.
“This situation is causing considerable hardship,” said Council Member Robert Lilligren, adding, “City government stands with the community.”
For years, members of the city’s Somalia community — the largest Somalia community in the United States — have routinely sent money home through businesses known as hawalas. These financial offices are regulated by state and federal agencies and have worked in conjunction with local banks that actually transfer the funds.
All of that came to an end in December, when Sunrise Community Banks said they would no longer make the transfers because of concerns that they might be at risk of violating federal rules designed to halt terrorism financing.
Council Member Meg Tuthill asked if it were possible to wire funds to Somalia through Western Union.
“Somalia is in chaos and violence,” said Ahmed Muhumud, representing the community. “There are no essential banking services and no government systems functioning.” He added that without a banking system in Somalia, it was impossible to wire money via Western Union.
Sunrise Community Banks first announced in November that it planned to cease money transfers. That action came after two Minnesota Somali women were convicted of supporting a known terrorist group by sending $8,600 through local hawalas.
“They are afraid the government might come after them if the money ends up in the wrong hands,” said Muhumud in reference to the bank. “There is the potential risk that the money could end up in the hands of people who want to harm the United States.”
Banks in Ohio, home to the second-largest Somalia community in the United States, have also stopped making money transfers. Banks in Washington, the state that’s home to the third-largest group of Somalis, are expected to stop transfers in a few days.
Despite acknowledging that the real solution to the money transfer problem must come from the federal government, council members backed a resolution to “strongly urge all concerned parties to find an amicable solution that facilitates the normal flow of remittances without compromising the safety and security of the United States.”