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Immigration in new times
By Laurel Druley
Minnesota Public Radio
August 1, 2002

Since September 11 fewer immigrants and refugees have been able to come to the United States. Now many of the immigrants already here are lining up to become citizens. While the Immigration and Naturalization Service says the rules have not changed, INS agents admit the process is stricter.

Armin Budimlic, contract services administrator for the Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association, fled to the United States from Bosnia eight years ago. While he once thought he would return to Bosnia, he is now a U.S. citizen.
(MPR Photo/Laurel Druley )

Armin Budimlic left Bosnia and moved to the United States with his wife and two children eight years ago.

"I think everybody wanted out," he says. "Many people were in concentration camps, starved to death, or killed."

Budimlic's family was one of the first Bosnian families to move to Rochester. With the help of Catholic Charities now there are about 300 families. But the numbers of new Bosnians arriving has dropped. Budimlic says Bosnia is no longer making headlines, but conditions there are still dismal. Budimlic says at one time he thought he'd go back. But after visiting Bosnia he realized life there was still grim.

"Now even though there's no fighting in Bosnia, life is such that many people would prefer to leave because there's no political solution, no foreign investments and many young people feel hopeless," Budimlic says.

Budimlic is now a U.S. citizen and he works for a program that helps other immigrants and refugees to attain citizenship.

Citizenship coordinator Mark Cole teaches a lesson on the Revolutionary War to Somalia refugee Sadia Aden. Cole says INS agents have been more strict since Sept. 11.
(MPR Photo/Laurel Druley)

Sadia Aden is taking classes to become a citizen. Aden fled Somalia six years ago. She says she'll feel safer with full U.S. citizenship. She's now studying with her teacher Mark Cole.

In six months she'll interview with an INS agent. She must prove a knowledge of U.S. history and government. Becoming a U.S. citizen has never been simple, but now it is more difficult than it used to be.

Cole tells his students the interview process is getting stricter.

"It does seem tougher," he says. "I've told them the rules haven't changed but they might be more picky and they should be prepared for that.

INS spokesman Tim Counts confirms Cole's understanding.

"Coming to the U.S. whether it's permanently or temporarily is a privilege not a right so we have the responsibility of determining whose qualified to enter the country," Counts says.

And that's slowing things down for the INS, both at ports of entry and regional offices. Counts says criminal record checks and border inspections are now more thorough.

"Immigration has always been part of the tradition of the United States in a way that hasn't been true in most other countries," Counts says. "And I don't think that's changed since Sept. 11."

"The idea is to welcome immigrants on a daily and yearly basis while at the same time tightening up the procedures and the scrutiny to weed out people who mean harm to the country."

Counts says there was another post September 11 hindrance to immigration. He says many INS employees around the world were pulled out of their offices as a safety measure. Now those employees are back to work, but there's a big backlog.

Sister Marilyn Orchard directs the Winona Catholic Charities resettlement service. She helps refugees petition for relatives to come to the United States and guides them through the entire move.

She says the numbers of refugees coming to southern Minnesota have dropped dramatically this year.

Orchard says the decrease is due to the tighter immigration regulations, although she also blames the affordable housing crunch in Minnesota. She says refugees coming to the U.S. must come in smaller groups, because it's taking so long for people to pass through immigration at the airport. Orchard says nowadays the INS processes 15 people an hour instead of 50.

Also the U.S. State Department has imposed restrictions on the number of refugees coming to Minnesota. Currently only refugees with relatives in the state are allowed to come here.

Orchard says it's a waiting game. Many people are in limbo while the INS sifts through the paperwork. She says, refugees face the heaviest INS screening.

Orchard says while the process has slowed, the reason for coming to the United States has not changed.

"It's the same as our grandparents," she explains. "They came here for a better life. They came to work and they came to build a life for themselves and their families."

Orchard is left waiting for the next wave of immigrants. In the meantime, she's working with people already here petitioning to bring their relatives from Somalia, Sudan or Bosnia.