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Plains home to surprising immigrant population

The plains of southeast South Dakota may seem an unlikely place to meet people from abroad. But as Sioux Falls has prospered, a new generation of immigrants has come to this growing city in search of the American dream. They've come from the Cong...

The plains of southeast South Dakota may seem an unlikely place to meet people from abroad.
But as Sioux Falls has prospered, a new generation of immigrants has come to this growing city in search of the American dream.
They've come from the Congo, Ukraine, Bosnia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Iraq, Somalia, Croatia and other places.
They've brought their culture, traditions and languages, and according to Donna Magnuson, "a desire to get to work."
"They want to get to work," she said. "Their normal lives were interrupted by war."
Magnuson is the director of Refugee and Immigration Programs for Lutheran Social Services (LSS) of South Dakota. The Sioux Falls based program helps resettle 350 to 400 people a year.
The newcomers are part of the 80,000 political refugees admitted to America each year, and a microfraction of the 14 million scattered throughout the world.
The arrivals come with a variety of skills -- some of which are in great demand in the burgeoning Sioux Falls economy. There are accountants, doctors, lawyers, farmers and builders. There are also unskilled and semi-skilled workers, necessary as well in the city's tight labor market.
Their major barrier is language, said Magnuson, whose program provides English classes, job placement assistance and other services to help refugees adjust. Those services plus other community resources and the area's low employment rate are helping make the program a success.
She said that for some of the refugees, language is not a problem since English is their third, fourth or fifth language.
The newcomers also qualify for eight months of cash and medical assistance, but they have to be looking for employment.
"I have been very pleased with the community of Sioux Falls," said Magnuson, who describes her job as "very, very, rewarding."
"The community has certainly been helpful," she said.
In turn, community leaders point to the program and the diversity and rich culture it brings the city. Dan Scott, president of the Sioux Falls Development Foundation, said there are restaurants and businesses reflecting the nationalities of the new residents.
As to how refugees from tropical climates adjust to the harsh South Dakota winters, Magnuson said, "people adapt pretty quickly."
LSS of South Dakota spent about $1.1 million in 2000 on its refugee and immigration programs.
A desire to work and a dream for the future was expressed by Sabrina, a hotel housekeeper who relocated from Bosnia. She's single, works two jobs, has bought a Jeep and hopes to buy a low-priced house that needs fixing up.
"No casinos, no restaurants, just work," she said. "Just work."

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