Donald Trump’s crusade against immigrants and refugees is not only antithetical to the American ideal of inclusion, it’s also based on a false notion. This backlash against foreigners, fueled by political rhetoric in the election, suggests that the country’s safety is at risk—largely from Muslim extremists—due to the the government’s lax vetting policies. In fact, refugees face an exhaustive screening process by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that can take years. Those who are lucky enough to make it through the process must then deal with another obstacle: a system that fails to fully integrate refugees into the American economy.
The federal government and its nonprofit partners provide job-search help and cash assistance for refugees during their first months in the United States. After that, they are largely on their own. This strategy has made it hard for refugee families—who often come to America with few assets or material possessions—to move up and out of poverty, and may be contribute to younger generations’ sense of isolation, the result of struggling to find their place in this country.
Minnesota is one of the top destinations for refugees moving to America, and Minneapolis has the largest Somali population in the country. Somali refugees, who are mostly Muslim, began resettling there in the 1990s, after the government of Somalia collapsed and civil war ensued. New waves of refugees have fled Somalia because of famine, drought, and continued political unrest. Though the first wave of refugees are now well established in Minneapolis, and many have become American citizens, Somalia remains one of the largest contributors of refugees to the United States. In 2015, nearly 9,000 Somalis arrived in the United States, and Minnesota received more of them than any other state. The community has faced unwanted national attention after nine Somali men from Minnesota were arrested for plotting to join ISIS in Syria. Six have pleaded guilty, and the other three were convicted in federal court this summer. Now the Justice Department is focusing on the city’s Somali community as part of a pilot program called Countering Violent Extremism, something that many Somali residents say is unwarranted.