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North Dakota sees lowest number of resettled refugees in years

Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota's office in Fargo. Forum file photo

FARGO — North Dakota, along with the rest of the U.S., saw a significant drop in the number of refugees resettled in the state in 2018, Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota reported.

According to an LSS report, 174 refugees settled in North Dakota between Oct. 1, 2017, and Sept. 31, 2018 — a major drop compared to about 421 refugees who came to the state the year prior.

Between 2007 and 2017, North Dakota has consistently taken in more than 400 refugees every year, with the majority of them settling in Fargo, the report showed.

The dip in refugee numbers is not confined to North Dakota, and 2018 marked the lowest number of refugee arrivals to the U.S. since 1975, said Shirley Dykshoorn, LSS vice president for senior and humanitarian services.

She said one of the reasons for the low number has to do with a slow screening process and a shortage in overseas staff at refugee programs.

In addition, extreme vetting policies put in place by President Donald Trump's administration constricted the pipeline of refugees being admitted and screened, with some who were already admitted having to undergo additional processing, Dykshoorn said.

Another reason for the drop is due to Trump's 2017 travel ban, which restricted admission of some from certain countries, she said.

Trump's administration also significantly lowered the cap for the number of refugees that can be admitted into the U.S, Dykshoorn said.

The 2018 cap was set at 45,000 refugees and was dropped to 30,000 for 2019, the lowest in the history of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, according to Refugee Council USA.

Between 2006 and 2017, the cap for the fiscal year was set somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000, with nearly 50,000 to 90,000 refugees accepted annually, according to the LSS report.

Refugee resettlement in the coming year will depend on alleviating the current backlog of refugees and how much more scrutiny, if any, is included as part of the vetting process, Dykshoorn said.

"There shouldn't be any reason that they shouldn't be able to do 30,000, that's my understanding," Dykshoorn said. "The worldwide need is at its greatest point."

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