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Refugees: From mayhem to Minnesota

October 3, 2013


Phil Davies Senior Writer
Refugees: From mayhem to Minnesota

Tens of thousands of refugees from global strife have settled in the Ninth District over the past decade, contributing to the workforce. In most district states, refugee arrivals have increased from year to year (see chart at bottom).

Many refugees fleeing war or oppression migrate to established immigrant communities with job openings, and that’s one reason Minnesota stands out from the rest of the district both in the number of refugees it accepts and the volatility of refugee inflows in recent years.

The state is welcoming to refugees (it ranks near the top among U.S. states in per capita refugee settlement) in large part because of the presence of social welfare organizations that serve refugees. Institutions such as Lutheran Social Services and the International Institute of Minnesota help newcomers learn English, find housing and land jobs—often in lower-paying occupations such as meatpacking, nursing assistance and grounds maintenance.

Refugee arrivals in Minnesota fell dramatically in 2008 because of a crackdown by the U.S. State Department on fraud in a program that allows refugees to join family members already in the country. Many refugees who claimed to be married or closely related to U.S. residents were in fact ineligible for settlement. Tightened federal oversight affected Minnesota disproportionately because many prospective migrants were natives of East African countries applying under the family reunification program. Minnesota refugee settlement has rebounded since 2009, and this year several refugee sponsors were expecting more arrivals than in 2012.

Montana is conspicuously absent from the chart; in contrast to Minnesota, the Treasure State accepts very few refugees. Why exactly is uncertain; one contributing factor is the small scale of social welfare initiatives in Montana compared with other district states. Most charitable groups are small, with scant resources to devote to refugee settlement.

For much more on refugees and other immigrant workers in the Ninth District, see the forthcoming October issue of the fedgazette.

Refugees -- 10-3-13