Cultures & immigration beat: Somalis decry new rule on visas

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 16, 2012 - 5:59 PM

A major bump has surfaced in the well-traveled road from Nairobi, Kenya, to Minnesota for Somali refugees hoping to reunite with family members here.

Recently, the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi began asking for more proof to verify that refugees applying to come here are who they say are.

The result, according to immigration attorneys in Minnesota familiar with the changes, is that the embassy is rejecting applicants at an alarming rate.

"I got a spike of clients in the last four months," said Abdinasir Abdulahi, a Minneapolis immigration attorney. "They were storming into my office."

The trouble began near the end of 2011, he said, when embassy officials started requiring applicants for what's called the I-130 visa to produce a refugee ID issued by the Kenyan government.

Since 2007, Kenya has required Somali refugees to register with the government and carry an ID, but many refugees don't understand the requirement, Abdulahi says.

Identifying refugees fleeing Somalia has always been a sticky issue. Most people arrive in neighboring Kenya without any papers.

According to the U.S. State Department website: "There is no competent civil authority in Somalia. The Government of Somalia ceased to exist in December of 1990. Since that time the country has undergone a destructive and brutal civil war, in the course of which most records were destroyed."

In the past, embassy officials have accepted sworn affidavits from town elders to confirm the identities of individuals. More recently, in response to reports of fraud, they rely on DNA testing to prove, for example, that a person claiming to be the sister of a Minnesota Somali really is the sister.

But even the DNA evidence doesn't seem to be enough to satisfy officials, say some local immigration attorneys, who argue that the tighter rules amount to unnecessary red tape. They'll discuss the issue Friday at a meeting of the local chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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