SIOUX FALLS, S.D. —Minnehaha is the first county in South Dakota to formally accept new refugees and be recognized by the federal government as a primary resettlement site.
The Minnehaha County Commission voted 5-0 to accept refugees for a year during a meeting Tuesday, Jan. 14.
Lutheran Social Services spearheaded the request to Minnehaha County and Sioux Falls officials to prompt a meeting and Tuesday’s subsequent vote.
Betty Oldenkamp, president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services, said the process is new for everyone.
President Donald Trump issued an executive order in September that would give local governments authority to be a primary resettlement site for refugees.
Oldenkamp said the state’s primary resettlement site has been Sioux Falls. Aberdeen and Huron are considered the state’s secondary resettlement sites, Oldenkamp added.
A primary resettlement site must be filed with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in order to be able to accept new or initial arrivals.
“Saying no or not acting are equivalent essentially,” Oldenkamp said.
“I think there’s some misunderstanding that every county and every state had to make a decision, and we don’t understand it to be that way. Once someone arrives — whether it’s in South Dakota, North Dakota or Minnesota —they are free to travel. This doesn’t apply to secondary migration,” Oldenkamp said.
The United Nations is the entity that serves as the primary overseas presence in terms of establishing refugee camps, which Oldenkamp said house “many, many people.” While she didn’t know what the total population is for refugee camps, Oldenkamp said less than 1 percent of that population seeks to resettle in another country.
“So right now we’ve still had a few of the Burmese, Karen, but primarily the refugees we are accepting now are Korean, Congolese and Ukrainian."
Lutheran Social Services doesn’t have a say in who comes to South Dakota on a refugee status, Oldenkamp said.
According to data from the Refugee Processing Center, Sioux Falls has resettled 3,824 refugees since 2002.
The breakdown of country of origin:
Democratic Republic of the Congo: 389
Sudan: 344 Burma/Myanmar: 339
Republic of South Sudan: 6
El Salvador: 5
Ivory Coast: 1