Hundreds of refugees unable to join families in Minnesota

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- The number of refugees resettling in Minnesota since Sept. 11 has dropped more than 80 percent, a change that refugee advocates say is one of the most significant immigration developments following the terrorist attacks.

About 1,500 refugees from around the world have been unable to join family members in Minnesota because of the dramatic drop-off in resettlements.

Minnesota's numbers mirror those across the country. Only 343 refugees were resettled in Minnesota from Oct. 1 through May 1, compared with 1,913 resettled in the same period a year earlier, according to state records. Nationally, 11,000 refugees -- of the 70,000 authorized by President Bush -- were allowed to enter from October through May, said Joel Luedtke, director of refugee services at the Minnesota Council of Churches.

"They have 1,500-and-then-some relatives waiting for them to come here," Luedtke said of the Minnesota-bound refugees. "As much as Minnesotans are concerned about the fate of refugees overseas, this is definitely an issue that affects thousands of people already in our state. These are husbands and wives, sons and daughters and parents being held from their loved ones."


Most refugees have been waiting in camps outside their home countries for three to five years before they enter the United States, said Patti Hurd, director of refugee and employment services for Lutheran Social Service, which sponsors refugee resettlement.

"We're trying to help reunify families here," Hurd said. "These refugees continue to be at risk in refugee camps throughout the world. We're just asking (the government) to reaffirm their commitment to this and keep their focus on this issue."

While delays mount for refugees waiting to enter the United States, students, visitors and business travelers have faced no such obstacles, Luedtke said.

"The real irony about this is that the only group of immigrants that have been systematically denied entry to the United States are themselves victims of terror," Luedtke said. "This is the one group of immigrants that have nothing to do with terrorism -- no refugees have been linked to terrorist activities -- yet they are singled out for this harsh treatment."

The U.S. refugee resettlement program comes up for renewal each year, with the president consulting with Congress before deciding on a number to accept. After the attacks, which occurred just a couple weeks before the renewal date, Bush froze refugee arrivals to review the program. The president did not set this year's goal of 70,000 refugees until Nov. 21, nearly two months later than usual.

When resettlement began, new security measures included additional background checks, fingerprints and photographs of refugees. Also, men ages 18 to 55 from a list of countries that officials have declined to release now undergo extra scrutiny before they enter the United States.

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