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    Fact check: Obama did not resettle 70,000 Somali immigrants in Minnesota

01:57 15 August 2020 Author :  

Matthew Brown, USA TODAY

The claim: President Barack Obama resettled 70,000 Somali immigrants in Minnesota, specifically the state's 5th Congressional District.

Since her election to the United States Congress, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., has been a lightning rod for various attacks and conspiracy theories, especially those relating to her faith and race.

One especially viral graphic on Facebook — from 2019 but gaining attention recently on the social network — falsely claims that President Barack Obama “imports 70,000 Somali immigrants and parks them in Minnesota … specifically in the fifth congressional district.”

The language in the graphic is most likely a reference to the State Department’s Refugee Resettlement Program, which did not resettle 70,000 Somalis in Minnesota throughout the Obama presidency.

Obama-era refugee resettlement

Since the passage of the Refugee Act in 1980, the Department of State has settled more than 3 million refugees throughout the United States. This work is often done by connecting refugees with existing communities that share their national origins to ensure speedy integration in the U.S.

During the Obama administration's eight years in office, the State Department resettled roughly 54,000 Somali refugees throughout the United States, according to the Refugee Processing Center. About 6,320 of those people were resettled in Minnesota, the highest number of any state.

By contrast, the George W. Bush administration resettled about 9,800 Somali refugees in Minnesota, according to the same data.

Minnesota is known as a strong resettlement location for Somali refugees because of its Somali-American community. That community, however, is a minority in the Minneapolis metropolitan area.

Ilhan Omar and Minnesota's 5th Congressional District

Rep. Ilhan Omar represents Minnesota's 5th Congressional District, which encompasses much of Minneapolis, and is 67% white, 17% Black, 9% Hispanic nonwhite and 6% Asian, according to the Census Bureau.

There are about 32,000 Somali people living in Hennepin County, which comprises much of Omar's district, according to estimates from the American Community Survey. As that number only counts direct immigrants and refugees in the area, it undercounts the community by not including American children and grandchildren of Somali descent.

"Precise population numbers are difficult to determine for the East African community, many community members do not participate in the census due to cultural reasons," a page on the Minneapolis city government website states.

"However, community members estimate that there are roughly 50,000 East Africans that call Minneapolis their home," it continues.

Minnesota State Demographer Susan Brower said 59% of the state's overall Somali population was not born in the U.S. "71% of Somalis in Hennepin County and 79% of Somalis in Minnesota were citizens at birth or naturalized citizens," she said.

The community has steadily grown over the years.

"The major change that I see is the integration of Somalis into Minnesota community institutions and leadership roles, particularly when it comes to nonprofit organizations, schools, and government," Brower said.

"The cultural norms for many Somali residents remain," she continued, referencing religious practices and daily attire.

"But the integration into community life here is notable, especially in the past 10 to 15 years. Demographically, the largest change has been a large and growing group of Somalis who were born and raised here in Minnesota. That, and the spread from the center cities and first ring suburbs to other areas in the state," Brower said.

Omar, herself once a refugee, came to the United States from Somalia 25 years ago with her family after fleeing a civil war in the country. Omar’s former status as a refugee and being one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress has also led to major controversies since taking office.

“Minnesota was a favored location in part due to the success of resettling Hmong refugees in the 1970s and 1980s. As more Somalis formed a larger community, they drew even more friends and family members who wanted to be among their own,” according to a 2019 story in the Star Tribune.

Minneapolis government has consistently supported refugee resettlement efforts. In December 2019, the city council reaffirmed its commitment to refugees in a unanimous resolution.

Our ruling: False

The Obama administration did not resettle 70,000 Somali immigrants in Minnesota, and Ilhan Omar's district is not majority Black or majority Somali-American, as implied by online postings. We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by our research.

US TODAY

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