MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Some local immigrants say they, and their families, are being unfairly affected by an anti-terrorism effort.

Most banks that have helped east African immigrants wire money home are no longer doing that.  Some are afraid the money could end up in the hands of terrorist groups, such as al-Shabaab. But local immigrants said the hold on transfers could ruin the economy in places like Somalia.

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Mustafe Abi spent Sunday going from money transfer store to money transfer store and is trying.

He’s been trying for weeks and he’ll try again.

“We try because they don’t have nothing,” Abi said.

Abi moved to the U.S. in 2006 from a refugee camp in Kenya. He goes to school and work here to support his mom and brother back home.

“Their school is not free, food is not free, they are not working, they don’t have income other places. It just depends on what I am sending them,” Abi said.

Now that most banks have stopped wring money to places like Somalia, it’s been trickier than ever.

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Representative Keith Ellison said it’s a major problem among his constituents.

“I have tons of examples personally and specifically about people trying to get money to their loved ones,” Ellison said.

Ellison said he’s been trying to make that point in Washington, to encourage banks to allow the flow of small amounts of money to Somalia.

“We want to stop money from going to the terrorists but we don’t want to be so inflexible that we can’t get the money to the overwhelming majority of people,” Ellison said.

While most banks have decided to stop the transfers completely, he said a few are continuing to quietly help east Africans out. Abi said he’ll find one.

“My mom’s not getting anything for food, my brother’s not getting school, nothing. So money wire closing, I see it as death and life,” Abi said.

Ellison worries that al-Shabaab could gain momentum by stepping in and offering money to these families who aren’t getting it.  But the banks of course are backing out, afraid of fees and afraid of helping pass money to dangerous hands.

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WCCO also spoke with Omar Jamal, a local Somali activist. He said he believes millions are being affected and he also thinks it could give al-Shabaab momentum.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield