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Wait grows for refugees headed to Minnesota

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President Trump speaks during a meeting
President Trump speaks in the Oval Office of the White House on Oct. 2, 2019. A delay in authorization of the federal resettlement program has left refugees in limbo as they wait to reunite with families in Minnesota. Resettlement agencies blame the delay on President Trump’s failure to authorize the 2020 refugee resettlement program.
Evan Vucci | AP Photo file

Refugees waiting to reunite with family in Minnesota have had their flights canceled this week as a moratorium on refugee arrivals continues.

Resettlement organizations blame the delay on President Trump’s failure to authorize the 2020 refugee resettlement program, which has left families waiting in the pipeline.

Organizations were gearing up for new refugee arrivals this month despite a historically low cap Trump proposed this year. They’ve rented housing and furnished homes with donated items.

“The reality is that nobody anywhere in the United States will have arrived in the month of October,” said Bob Oehrig, executive director of the Arrive Ministries’ Richfield office, which was set to resettle two Karen families from refugee camps in Thailand.

The president has authority to set the annual cap, and the numbers have declined each year of Trump’s presidency. For the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, he proposed to limit new refugee arrivals to an historic low of 18,000. That represents a 40 percent decrease from the 2019 ceiling and a 60 percent drop from the previous year.

In Minnesota, 727 refugees were resettled in fiscal year 2019 that ended Sept. 30.

There is typically a one-week window at the start of the fiscal year when no refugees arrive. But to longer for a final signature is unusual, said Micaela Schuneman, director of refugee services at the International Institute of Minnesota.

“We have a certain number of cases that are already booked to travel and then they keep getting rescheduled,” she said. “That’s obviously very stressful for their families who are here waiting for them and of course for the clients that are waiting to come.”

Arrive Ministries expects to resettle refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Ukraine and Moldova.

Oehrig said refugees typically wait years before getting final approval for resettlement. They undergo extensive vetting, which includes medical clearances that expire after six months.

“So, they have to go renew those and have another health screening or another security check, another security interview and those sometimes take months to schedule again,” Oehrig said. “So it kind of mushrooms.”

A Department of State spokesperson said in a statement that it notified resettlement organizations that the pause would be extended until Nov. 5 and that it will work with them to reschedule travel plans. He added that by law, no refugees may be admitted until the president signs the Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions.

“We do not comment on the internal deliberations or communication about deliberations regarding the presidential determination,” he wrote.