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Why hundreds of refugees are flowing into Sacramento despite Trump order

Travelers coming into San Francisco hear 'Welcome to America'

Trump protesters chant "Welcome to America" with international fliers arriving at San Francisco International Airport on Sunday, January 29, 2017.
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Trump protesters chant "Welcome to America" with international fliers arriving at San Francisco International Airport on Sunday, January 29, 2017.

The Sacramento region is bucking President Donald Trump’s moves to cut back the flow of international refugees entering the United States.

The region is experiencing a mini-boom of refugees resettling here, even as the number of refugees admitted into the U.S. overall plummets, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of data kept by the national Refugee Processing Center.

A total of 466 refugees from around the globe have resettled in the Sacramento metropolitan area so far this year, a 20 percent increase over the same period last year. The number to date is also bigger than in any year under former President Barack Obama.

Nationwide, the number of refugees flowing into the United States is down 21 percent so far this year. The number of those who have resettled in California – 1,938 – is nearly identical to the 2016 figure.

Trump sought earlier this year to place a temporary ban on accepting international refugees and to block Syrian refugees indefinitely, arguing that stronger vetting procedures were needed. Both orders were suspended by the courts.

Many refugees fleeing war-torn Syria are resettling in the Sacramento region. So far this year, 58 Syrians have settled in the region, more than double the number who came here in 2016. The number of Syrians granted refuge both in California and nationwide is also on the rise.

A total of 43 Iraqi refugees, 37 Iranians and 25 Afghans have also settled in the Sacramento region this year.

The overall Sacramento figures reflect a sharp increase in refugees coming from Ukraine. A total of 236 men, women and children from the Eastern European nation have resettled in the Sacramento area this year, compared with 187 at the same time last year. Russian troops and Russia-backed separatists have fought Ukrainian forces in the eastern half of the country since 2014.

Many refugees from Ukraine and other Eastern European nations have historically settled in the Sacramento area. Moldova, another former Soviet republic bordering Ukraine, was the country of origin for 30 refugees so far this year.

Matthew Soerens, a spokesman for World Relief, one of the nation’s leading refugee resettlement agencies, said the Sacramento, Modesto and Seattle regions are among the few areas in the nation where refugee numbers are increasing. World Relief has made staffing cuts around the country as the numbers drop, but staffing levels have remained steady in Sacramento.

Soerens said the increase locally is likely the result of the region’s long-standing role as a destination for those fleeing dangerous conditions in other countries, particularly Afghanistan and former Soviet republics.

“Sacramento is just a popular place among those who will say, ‘I’ve got a cousin (or other family member) in Sacramento, and that’s where I’d like to go,’ ” he said.

Karen Ferguson, the executive director for the Northern California office of the International Rescue Committee, said refugees from Ukraine were not as heavily impacted by Trump’s executive orders earlier this year seeking to stop the flow of refugees and ban travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations. “If you weren’t from one of those seven countries, you might still have been getting arrivals,” Ferguson said.

She added that refugees from Syria and Ukraine often travel in large family units – “nine or 10 people” – meaning the numbers can quickly grow.

The local refugee data do not include those who resettled here on Special Immigrant Visas, or SIVs. Those visas are granted to Afghans and Iraqis who assisted U.S. military forces during wars in their home nations. Sacramento is among the top destinations in the United States for Afghans permitted to move to the U.S. with an SIV.

A public forum held in March by the country’s top immigration enforcement official, Thomas Homan, in Sacramento drew hundreds of vocal protesters condemning the Trump administration’s hardline stance on refugees and undocumented immigrants.

Ryan Lillis: 916-321-1085, @Ryan_Lillis

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