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Who are these refugees?

UCAP offers facts on resettlement in Lyon County before Tuesday’s hearing

MARSHALL — Lyon County commissioners said they no longer have a need to vote on whether to give consent to resettle refugees in the county — a federal judge’s injunction last week set things back to the way they were before President Donald Trump issued an executive order on refugee resettlement.

But that doesn’t mean people are done talking about the issue, Commissioner Charlie Sanow said. The county board will still be holding a planned public hearing on Jan. 28, although it will be more of a listening session.

Even if the county isn’t acting on resettlement, it’s important for county residents to have the facts about it, said Angela Larson, Family Services Director for United Community Action Partnership. Larson spoke with the Independent last week about UCAP’s work reuniting refugees with family members already living in Lyon County. Many of the objections voiced about resettlement in the county are lumping refugee resettlement together with the asylum process or immigration, Larson and UCAP representatives said. However, it’s not the same thing, they said.

Refugees are not the same as immigrants, and they are not undocumented, Larson said. Refugees are people who are fleeing war, violence or persecution, and don’t have the option of returning to their native countries. While a person who arrives at the U.S. border seeking asylum may also be fleeing violence, the process for them to enter the country is different.

“People who are refugees are people who are coming from a refugee camp,” Larson said. Refugees need to apply for resettlement, and it’s not a fast or simple process. “Normally, they’re in the refugee camps for years.”

Where in the world refugees are resettled is partly influenced by whether they have connections in a particular country. During the application process, “They’re asked if they have families,” that they can be resettled with, said UCAP case worker Samira Sheikh.

Refugees undergo around 20 different assessments and background checks before they arrive in the U.S., the Minnesota Department of Human Services said. The vetting process involves eight different federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, and the FBI.

Refugees who are selected to resettle through the U.S. Department of State’s Refugee Admissions Program have legal, permanent status in the U.S., as well as authorization to work and a pathway to citizenship after five years, the Minnesota DHS said.

President Trump capped the number of refugee admissions to the U.S. at 18,000 for the current fiscal year. The Associated Press reported that about 30,000 refugees were resettled in the U.S. during the past fiscal year. The Minnesota DHS said 848 refugees were resettled in Minnesota in the 2019 fiscal year.

However, the number of those refugees being resettled in Lyon County is relatively small, Larson said. UCAP has helped resettle a total of 37 people in Lyon County over the past three years.

Coming to Minnesota

Refugees are resettled in Minnesota with the help of agencies including Lutheran Social Services of Minnesota, Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota, Arrive Ministries, and the Minnesota Council of Churches. The federal government contracts with resettlement agencies to help refugees in the first 30 to 90 days after arrival, the Minnesota DHS said.

If a new refugee doesn’t have family or connections in the U.S., they can be placed within 50 miles of a local resettlement agency. If the refugee does have family or other connections they wish to join, and there is a local agency within 100 miles of that location, they can be placed there, the DHS said. If there isn’t a local agency within 100 miles of a refugee’s family, the State Department works with a national agency to find a local partner to provide resettlement services.

Larson said UCAP was approached about helping refugees in 2014. Some refugees were being initially placed in areas far from their families — sometimes in other states — and then traveling to Minnesota. UCAP works to reunite refugees with family members who already live in Lyon County, she said.

The Minnesota DHS says Minnesota does not spend state dollars on refugee resettlement. Funding for resettlement comes entirely from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The state DHS receives about $5 million in federal funding each year.

Larson said refugees are allotted $1,175 per person to help them in their first 90 days in the U.S. That money could be used for a lot of different purposes, like paying rent, or buying medications, clothes or household items like bedding. UCAP is then reimbursed for that funding, she said.

Once the number of refugees for the fiscal year is set, funding is also set for that number of people, Sheikh said.

While refugees are free to move wherever they want once they’ve arrived in the U.S., the federal funding doesn’t go with them if they move away from the place they are initially settled, Larson said.

Getting oriented

UCAP works with refugees within the first 90 days after they arrive in Lyon County, Larson and Sheikh said. A lot of the time, she said, “By the 90th day, because they have family here, they’re acclimated.”

“They want to be part of the community,” Larson said.

As a case worker, Sheikh works with refugees to help them get settled in their new home. That includes scheduling health exams, helping them apply for employment authorization and Social Security cards, and helping them enroll in school or adult education. All of that happens in the first week after refugees arrive in Lyon County, Sheikh said.

Sheikh also works with refugees one-on-one to help orient them to a new culture.

“We start with safety and housing,” Sheikh said.

“Safety is number one. Even just getting acclimated to the weather,” Larson said. Sometimes refugees don’t arrive in Minnesota with adequate clothes for the climate, or for the season.

Sheikh said cultural orientation also includes talking about topics ranging from job interviews to obeying local laws, to help with hygiene questions and how to use American home appliances.

After refugees go through a health assessment, they can start working.

Sheikh said the path to citizenship is also a topic during orientation.

“One hundred percent of (refugees) are asking about it,” she said. “That’s where they’re headed.”

Refugees who come to Minnesota get jobs and contribute to their local communities. Refugees pay more than $227 million in state and local taxes each year, and contribute to Social Security, the Minnesota DHS said. In 2015, refugees had spending power of $1.8 billion in Minnesota.

Regardless of whether local counties gave consent for refugee resettlement, people would still move to Lyon County, Larson and Sheikh said. But with support for resettlement services, refugees can integrate into the community more easily.

“If anything, we’re lifting some of those burdens,” Sheikh said.

The public hearing on refugee resettlement will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, in the lower level of the Lyon County Law Enforcement Center, in Marshall.

Larson said she had met with one community member last week to answer questions about refugee resettlement.

“I’m happy to meet with anybody,” to help answer questions, she said.

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