The pace of refugees arriving in Minnesota slowed markedly in recent months, even though President Trump’s executive order pausing resettlement remains mired in the courts. Minnesotastan Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison must be very upset to see his voting base shrinking before his very eyes.
Star Tribune Arrivals hit a low of 66 statewide in March, roughly one-fifth the level of a year ago, before rebounding slightly in April. Somalis, who last fall were a majority of refugees in the state, made up less than a quarter of last month’s arrivals, based on new data from the State Department.
For Minnesota’s resettlement agencies, the result has been layoffs and anxious calls from former clients worried about reuniting with family members still in the resettlement pipeline. For critics of refugee resettlement, the continued arrivals nationally — still in the thousands each month, including people from countries singled out for additional travel restrictions — are a disappointment.
The reasons for the slowdown are not entirely clear, and a bipartisan group of senators this month wrote Trump officials to demand an explanation.
“There’s a great deal of uncertainty on all sides,” said June Jordan, head of resettlement at Catholic Charities, one of five Twin Cities agencies that contract with the federal government.
It may be that resettlement officials in Minnesota and in Washington, D.C., are scheduling travel more conservatively, in case the courts uphold the president’s suspension and a lower annual limit, local officials said.
“So many were caught off guard when the first executive order came out,” said Micaela Schuneman, refugee services director at the International Institute of Minnesota. “We are trying to avoid that scenario again.”
Resettlement agencies in Minnesota and nationally were uncommonly busy last fall, at the start of the federal fiscal year, and rapidly moved toward the annual limit that former President Barack Obama had raised from 85,000 to 110,000 refugees; the refugee total so far this fiscal year is 42,000.
But since Trump’s January executive order suspending resettlement and travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, and then a revised order in March, arrivals slowed down rapidly.
In April, 86 refugees arrived in Minnesota, down from more than 300 in October. Nationally, the number fell in March to the lowest level since 2013. In Minnesota, newcomers from Myanmar increased last month, outpacing the Somali arrivals. Agencies also resettled 11 refugees from Congo, and more are expected.
Apart from the court standoff, there is speculation that federal vetting of new refugees is grinding to a halt. A recent Washington Post article cited Homeland Security officials who said their department has stopped interviewing refugees overseas — a key prerequisite for resettlement.