PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD) turned down an option from President Donald Trump to block refugees from entering South Dakota in the new year.
On Thursday, the first-term governor sent a letter to the U.S. State Department authorizing refugee resettlement.
This comes after an executive order from Trump issued in September allowing state and local governments to consent to receive refugees.
Trump’s executive order shifted control away from the federal government.
“For the communities that want to welcome these refugees, I support giving them that opportunity,” Noem said in a statement.
South Dakota has seen a significant drop in the last few years of resettlement and the projected number for 2020 is even lower, thanks in part to a refugee admissions ceiling of 18,000 for the country implemented by Trump.
“These assurances and a responsible screening process ensure that South Dakota’s interests are best protected so we can support continued participation in the program,” Noem said.
The assurances Noem is referring to are more time to screen applicants, data collection on applicants, more latitude for the government in how they deny applicants and increased national security databases for vetting.
“Thanks to the leadership of President Trump, the strengthened screening process for refugees entering the United States can give South Dakotans increased confidence that those entering are coming for the right reasons,” Noem said.
Refugees come to the United States to escape persecution for race, religion, nationality, social groups or political opinions. One year after arriving in America, refugees can apply for legal permanent residency. Then after five years, legal permanent residents can apply to become U.S. citizens.
In South Dakota, refugees come to Sioux Falls where Lutheran Social Services oversees resettlement.
This begins at the airport, with LSS then finding initial housing and basic needs. For up to eight months the agency, with federal funding, will help provide basic needs until they’re self-sufficient.
Employment programs, English classes, case management and a 30-hour community orientation are provided to help people learn about U.S. laws.
Over the years, many of the refugees entering South Dakota have come from Africa. In 2019, the most came from the small country of Eritrea.
For a quarter of a century, this country has seen brutal leadership, according to a 2016 United Nations report. Citizens have been enslaved, imprisoned, disappeared, tortured, raped and murdered to deter opposition from the government.
“Eritrea is an authoritarian State. There is no independent judiciary, no national assembly and there are no other democratic institutions in Eritrea. This has created a governance and rule of law vacuum, resulting in a climate of impunity for crimes against humanity to be perpetrated over a quarter of a century. These crimes are still occurring today,” Mike Smith, chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry, said in a statement.
Of the 130 refugees who entered the United States and were placed in South Dakota in 2019, 58 were under the age of 18.
The numbers for each year follow the federal fiscal year from October to September. Given Trump’s decision to only allow 18,000 refugees in 2019, LSS projects South Dakota will receive 60 or fewer arrivals.
Since the federal fiscal year of 2014, on average South Dakota only receives 0.66 percent of the refugees who have entered the country on an annual basis, with that number never hitting one percent.
Noem’s decision to sign this letter falls in line with the decision by most governors across the country.
According to Noem’s office, the decision for resettlement is now in the hands of local authorities.
“Signing this consent letter allows the discussion to continue community by community throughout our great state. I’ve always believed that the best decisions are made at the local level, so I appreciate the administration’s invitation to contribute in this way,” Noem said.
In the past, refugees were placed in both Huron and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, but the Huron placement ended in September 2016.
The City of Sioux Falls confirmed to KELOLAND News they will allow refugees in 2020.
“I am preparing a formal response to the Department of State supportive of the 2020 resettlements in Sioux Falls,” Mayor Paul TenHaken said.
Outside of Sioux Falls, LSS has a staff presence in Huron and Aberdeen to support refugees who were resettled in another state and then choose to move to South Dakota or in the case of Huron, help refugees who arrived prior to 2016.
LSS has been overseeing refugee resettlement in the state since 2000. The agency requested Noem sign the consent letter.
The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, which works with Lutheran Social Services, is one of three national organizations suing to block Trump’s executive order.
North Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska and Minnesota’s governors have all consented to refugee resettlement.
Noem’s consent will be in effect until December 2020.