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Somali refugees face new hurdles in bringing their families to America

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This week, Westword's cover story, "Wage War," introduced you to Greeley's Somali refugees, many of whom lost their jobs in a clash over prayer breaks at the JBS Swift & Company meatpacking plant.

 

But Somali refugees throughout the United States are facing a bigger hurdle: Seeing their families. The U.S. State Department recently discovered widespread fraud in a program designed to reunite refugees with family members still living in East Africa. DNA testing revealed that applicants were posing as brothers or parents of refugees already living in America, in order to win a chance to be resettled here.

 

In late October, the government stopped accepting new applications for the program until officials can figure out how to fix the problem.

 

This left Somalis living in the U.S. in limbo. In Minnesota, home of the largest Somali population in North America, hundreds of people have been affected, reducing the rush of African refugees arriving in the Twin Cities to just one person since March, according to Westword's sister paper, City Pages.

 

Here in Denver, the impact is more subtle since many Somali refugees moved from other states, like Arizona or Minnesota, rather than directly from Africa, and have years to send for their families, says Rashid Sadiq, president of the Somali Organization of Colorado.

But for those still waiting to be reunited with wives and children living in overcrowded refugees camps in Kenya, Egypt and other countries, the process has gotten a lot harder.

 

Sadiq told the story of one Denver cab driver who paid $1,000 to have his son get a DNA test at a hospital in Kenya, then another $1,000 to transport his wife and son to the American embassy to fill out paperwork. Why the cost is so high is unclear, but Sadiq

guesses there is probably a broker involved, eager to earn a few bucks off desperate refugees. The cab driver has been waiting since 2006 to be reunited with his family, and was almost finished with the bureaucratic process when he learned the DNA test was required. It "costs a lot for families, and costs them for the delay, also," Sadiq says.

 

Hundreds of Somalis working at meatpacking plants in Greeley and Fort Morgan are also waiting for their families to arrive, Sadiq says. Once you send for a relative, you can't move to another state, because it would mean starting the application process all over again. So now, they must wait, and hope that their assembly-line jobs last long enough to support their families. -- Lisa Rab

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