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Report on refugee resettlement shows multi-year declines in South Dakota and nationwide

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Graphic from Lutheran Social Services' Center for New Americans annual report. FFY stands for federal fiscal year.

South Dakota is home to 52 new international refugees.

Over half of the people resettled in the state this past year came from an African country, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The U.S. State Department manages the Refugee Resettlement Program, and states can opt into participating. Every state except Wyoming currently has participating agencies. In South Dakota, Lutheran Social Services has overseen refugee resettlement since 2000.

According to Lutheran Social Services’ new annual report on refugee resettlement, the number of people resettling in South Dakota has been in decline.

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Chart from Lutheran Social Services' Center for New Americans annual report.

The president and CEO of LSS, Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen, says an international slowdown in application processing the past four to five years has caused the low number of arrivals. She says the process for a refugee who is applying for resettlement in the U.S. takes anywhere between 18 months and two years to get through the background check and screening processes. The reason for the decline in refugee admission lies with the federal government.

"If you compare the number of arrivals in South Dakota with the number of arrivals into the country as a whole, you can see a similar decrease," Kiesow-Knudsen says, "and so basically it just has to do with the presidential administration in terms of how they’ve managed the refugee resettlement program."

Each year in October, the president decides on the maximum number of refugees the country will accept in the following year. In 2020, President Trump set the maximum to 18,000, and then in 2021, President Biden increased the maximum to 62,500. Despite this increase, both years saw about 11,000 refugees arrive in the U.S.

President Biden’s refugee threshold is 125,000 for this year. Half that number is earmarked for individuals from Afghanistan through Operation Allies Welcome.