Pascal Tembera came to Minnesota as a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018 through the International Institute of Minnesota. The state resettled 723 Congolose people that year, compared to 55 in 2022. Members of his family have been reuniting with him in Minnesota over the last four years. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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The state of Minnesota admitted 533 refugees in the last year, mostly from Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This year’s numbers are somewhat higher than under Trump—resettlement hit a record low under Trump’s last cap set for 2021. Minnesota welcomed 268 refugees that year and resettlement agencies have since started rebuilding their infrastructure to accommodate a potential uptick in refugees under Biden. Before Trump, the state resettled 2,635 under former president Barack Obama in 2016.

In September 2021, President Joe Biden’s administration announced a dramatic increase in the number of refugees who would be allowed into the United States, increasing the cap from 62,500 to 125,000 people. The administration allowed 25,465 refugees to enter the United States between October 2021 and September 2022—the standard fiscal year the federal government counts refugee resettlement. While it’s higher than refugee admissions under former president Donald Trump, the number is 20 percent of the 125,000 total spots Biden allocated.

The Biden administration has previously blamed Trump for gutting the United States refugee resettlement system by admitting less refugees and granting less funding for resettlement agencies. 

The Biden administration has once again announced a 125,000 cap for 2023. This year’s resettlement figures are disappointing, said Jane Graupman, executive director of the International Institute of Minnesota, a state refugee resettlement agency. But, Graupman said, the federal government was facing unusual circumstances.

The federal refugee resettlement process doesn’t include the 90,000 Afghans and 62,000 Ukrainians who evacuated to the United States under emergency conditions. More than 600 Ukrainians have resettled in Minnesota in the last year, as well as 1,200 Afghans since August 2021. 

“It was an exceptional year in a way,” Graupman said. “They didn’t come formally come through the refugee program.”

Refugees who arrive through the traditional federal system have been gone through a different vetting procedure, usually in refugee camps abroad, before entering the United States. Unlike most emergency evacuees, these refugees can apply for a green card after one year living in the United States.

Emergency evacuees like those from Afghanistan and Ukraine aren’t counted in official refugee resettlement numbers because they receive funding from different sources. Federal financial benefits for official refugees, for example, come from different programs than the financial benefits an Afghan refugee gets. 

Here’s how refugee resettlement works:

Credit: International Institute of Minnesota
Credit: International Institute of Minnesota

Graupman expects the Biden administration to ramp up traditional refugee resettlement processing abroad in 2023. The International Institute has a capacity to work with a much larger number of refugees. For example, the agency aided close to 600 refugees through traditional resettlement in one year, and that doesn’t include data from other resettlement agencies in the state.

“It’s more dependent on the federal government getting closer to the ceiling,” Graupman said. “If they do, we’ll have more refugees in Minnesota.”

Deputy Assistant State Department Secretary Sarah Cross told CBS News that the Biden administration has deployed roughly 600 additional personnel at refugee processing centers overseas, increased the number of domestic resettlement agencies from 199 to 270, and expedited the processing of refugees. 

“We are going to do everything in our power to welcome as many refugees as we can this year, recognizing that 125,000 remains a very ambitious target and it will take some time to get there,” Cross told CBS News. 

A majority of refugees who entered Minnesota in 2022 came from Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which Graupman said is consistent with prior years. Almost half of the refugees that came to the United States overall in 2022 came from the Democratic Republic of Congo or Syria.

“A lot of it has to do with family reunification,” Graupman said. “Locally, the majority of people coming here are joining family.”

Pascal Tembera, a nursing assistant in St. Paul, came to Minnesota from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2018 through the International Institute of Minnesota. The state resettled 723 Congolese people that year, compared to 55 in 2022. 

“I got to meet some people that I even went to school with,” Tembera said of the local Congolese community. “It really feels good when you get to meet somebody that you share the same story with. It’s comforting that somebody has made it through those years in refugee camps—and then you came to meet in Minnesota.”

The International Institute has helped Tembera’s parents, and a few of his nine siblings and their families reunite with Tembera over the last four years. Tembera’s sister Adeline and her seven children arrived in Minnesota in July. Her children have since started school in the Minneapolis School District. 

Hibah Ansari is a reporter for Sahan Journal and corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She was named the 2022 Young Journalist of...