County Commission to decide if refugees can settle in Minnehaha County

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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KSFY) - Minnehaha County Commissioners are set to decide next Tuesday whether or not refugees will be able to settle within Minnehaha County. This comes after the Trump administration made a change to allow local communities to have a final say.

Lutheran Social Services has let Minnehaha County Commissioners know that before May 31 they must have their approval to continue accepting refugees after that date. This is after the Trump administration announced that states and local communities could opt out of the Refugee Resettlement Program.

"If Donald Trump says these people are fine why would we say no?" Minnehaha County Commissioner, Jeff Barth said.

Minnehaha County Commissioners are set to decide next week whether or not the county will participate in the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program.

"My sense is that we will allow them to come," Barth said.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order in September that allows states and local governments to opt-out of the program.

Governor Kristi Noem notified the administration in December that South Dakota will continue to accept refugees who are resettled into the U.S. this year.

The Vice-President with Lutheran Social Services said refugee numbers have been decreasing over the last three years.

"It starts with the federal determination. So the president every year in October gets to decide how many refugees will be allowed into the country at that federal level. Then there's a process that determines how many arrivals might occur locally," Vice-President with Lutheran Social Services, Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen said.

All refugees are immigrants, but not all immigrants are refugees. They’re fleeing from a country that is harming their personal safety and may remain in a refugee camp for years before hopefully returning home.

"From my point of view, these are not the same as people who come here illegally. These are not the people that swam across the river or parachuted in or something. These are people that have been studied, investigated and brought through," Barth said.

The state expects to see 60 to 100 new refugees if consent is approved. They’ll be placed around the state with opportunities to begin work or school.

"So last year as an example we resettled 130 individuals into the state of South Dakota. If you look back four years you'll see those numbers were up a lot closer to 500 individuals," Kiesow-Knudsen said.

The resettlement program will allow a maximum of 18,000 refugees to be resettled into the U.S. That's down from 30,000 after the Trump administration made a cut.

After refugees are approved to resettle within the state they will have eight months to become self-sufficient. 91 percent of newly arrived refugees were in self-sufficient households within eight months.