Ryan Bakken, Published January 20 2014
New GF office helps speed up immigration process for refugees
To complete the process of becoming a citizen, Reggie needed to make six trips to Fargo. But his father and other local refugees won’t have to experience the same burden, since complete immigration services in Grand Forks became available in November for the first time.
“With the services here in Grand Forks, it will save money and time and everything,” Tarr said. “There will be no waiting and you’ll be able to do it over your lunch hour rather than take an entire day off from work to drive to Fargo and back.”
His process to U.S. citizenship started 11 years ago when he arrived in Grand Forks as a refugee from Liberia.
He initially made trips to Fargo to get his green card, then to get travel documents and finally to become a naturalized citizen. Most appointments meant a three-month wait.
He also remembers the need to travel to the Twin Cities during the process. “I had one question, and it took one minute to answer after traveling all that way and back,” he said.
As of November, the Grand Forks office of Lutheran Social Services New Americans has been able to provide the immigration services and answers. Tarr, 40, knows from personal experience how much that means. He also knows because of his job as a case manager for New Americans, working with refugees.
Refugees are defined as people who have fled their country because of fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality or membership in a social group or political group.
North Dakota accepts about 400 refugees each year, according to Lutheran Social Services’ statistics.
Shyam Rai, an immigration specialist at the New Americans office downtown, had a similar experience when he came to Grand Forks in 2008 as a refugee from Bhutan.
“Most of our clients don’t have cars or a lot of money, so they either have to ride a bus or find a ride,” Rai said. “It becomes tedious.”
Moses Tarr, 74, has received his green card and is working toward his citizenship.
It often is a long process because “refugees are fleeing and they don’t have time to grab documents like birth certificates and cash,” said Katherine Dachtler, the program director at New Americans. “They just go.”