Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

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Title: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free An Examination of Refugee Resettlement in the United States
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Language: English
Creator: Certain, Jessica
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2011
Publication Date: 2011


Subjects / Keywords: Refugee Resettlement
United State
Climate Refugee
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
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Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: Each year the United States accepts more than one half of the refugees resettled worldwide; this thesis examines the process of refugee resettlement in the United States. I describe the development of the global refugee resettlement system as well as theoretical concepts and legal definitions of �the refugee.� Through ethnographic fieldwork done in the Atlanta office of the International Rescue Committee, a major refugee resettlement agency, I explore how the process unfolds on the ground. Thirty years after the Refugee Act of 1980, now is a critical time to examine refugee resettlement in the United States
Statement of Responsibility: by Jessica Certain
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2011
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Vesperi, Maria; Dean Erin

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Source Institution: New College of Florida
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Permanent Link:

Material Information

Title: Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free An Examination of Refugee Resettlement in the United States
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Creator: Certain, Jessica
Publisher: New College of Florida
Place of Publication: Sarasota, Fla.
Creation Date: 2011
Publication Date: 2011


Subjects / Keywords: Refugee Resettlement
United State
Climate Refugee
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent)   ( marcgt )
born-digital   ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation


Abstract: Each year the United States accepts more than one half of the refugees resettled worldwide; this thesis examines the process of refugee resettlement in the United States. I describe the development of the global refugee resettlement system as well as theoretical concepts and legal definitions of �the refugee.� Through ethnographic fieldwork done in the Atlanta office of the International Rescue Committee, a major refugee resettlement agency, I explore how the process unfolds on the ground. Thirty years after the Refugee Act of 1980, now is a critical time to examine refugee resettlement in the United States
Statement of Responsibility: by Jessica Certain
Thesis: Thesis (B.A.) -- New College of Florida, 2011
Bibliography: Includes bibliographical references.
Source of Description: This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The New College of Florida, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Local: Faculty Sponsor: Vesperi, Maria; Dean Erin

Record Information

Source Institution: New College of Florida
Holding Location: New College of Florida
Rights Management: Applicable rights reserved.
Classification: local - S.T. 2011 C41
System ID: NCFE004485:00001

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GIVE ME YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR YOUR HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE: AN EXAMINATION OF REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT IN THE UNITE D STATES BY JESSICA CERTAIN A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Social Sciences New College of Florida In partial fulfillment of the requirement of the de gree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorships of Dr. Maria D. Vesperi and Dr. Erin Dean Sarasota, Florida May, 2011


ii Table of Contents ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS………………………………………………………iii ABSTRACT……………………………………………………………………...iv INTRODUCTION………………………………………………………………...1 CHAPTER ONE: Background on the Refugee System…………………………………………….. 12 CHAPTER TWO: US Refugee Programs………………………………………………..…………..36 CHAPTER THREE: Working in Refugee Resettlement……………………………………………….5 7 CONCLUSION…………………………………………………………………106 WORKS CITED………………………………………………………………..118


iii Acknowledgements Oh wow. Well, first I would like to thank my family especially my parents and my sister and my baby mittens, Sarko and Tacho, bec ause I could not have gotten through school without you. I couldn’t have a bette r family. Thank you so much to my best friends, Roxanne, Heat her, Rachel, Jordan, Lucy, Andy, Chloe. Roxanne, I love you forever and I’m so glad you were around this year. We will live together again someday. Heather, Rachel, Jordan, Lucy—y’all probably don’t even know this document exists, but you are the best friends. Andy, thank you for helping me grow and always bein g there. Chloe, my sweet roomie, I am so glad I got to spend this year with you and I love you. Erica, thanks for being my thesis companion and for being there all these years. To all my friends, old and new, that have made this year the best I’ve had at New College—you are amazing people and I’m so lucky to have you in my life. I tried to list you but then I got all confused and none of you are going to look at this anyway so it probably doesn’t matter. But you know who you are. To all my friends in Atlanta for all the fun and fo r saving my sanity. To my wonderful professors, especially Erin, Maria, and Bob. Thanks for the support and for teaching me so much.


iv GIVE ME YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR YOUR HUDDLED MASSES YEARNING TO BREATHE FREE: AN EXAMINATION OF REFUGEE RESETTLEMENT IN THE UNITE D STATES Jessica Certain New College of Florida, 2011 ABSTRACT Each year the United States accepts more than one h alf of the refugees resettled worldwide; this thesis examines the proce ss of refugee resettlement in the United States. I describe the development of th e global refugee resettlement system as well as theoretical concepts and legal de finitions of “the refugee.” Through ethnographic fieldwork done in the Atlanta office of the International Rescue Committee, a major refugee resettlement agen cy, I explore how the process unfolds on the ground. Thirty years after t he Refugee Act of 1980, now is a critical time to examine refugee resettlement in the United States. Dr. Maria D. Vesperi Dr. Erin Dean Division of Social Science


1 Introduction The year 2010 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the seminal United States Refugee Act of 1980, which created legislati on and programs to permit and guide refugee admittance and resettlement. In this thesis, I examine refugee resettlement in the United States—where it has been how it is done now, and how it may be affected in the future. I discuss how ref ugees are defined, what policies and programs have been developed to deal with and a ccommodate them or deny them, who the refugees are and where they come from and how the process of resettlement actually unfolds. Like many resettlement workers with whom I spoke, I entered the field of refugee resettlement almost by accident. I had spen t a semester in France and hoped to continue practicing my French upon return to the United States, so I applied to intern at the International Rescue Commi ttee (IRC) office in Atlanta, my hometown. Prior to this, my experience with refu gees had been limited to what I had read in Paul Farmer’s Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor (2006) about the detention of Haitian asylumseekers at Guantanamo Bay after the military coup i n the early 1990s While my internship lacked much of the political controversy and intrigue of Farmer’s book, it presented a new set of challenges, in some ways more mundane and in some ways completely foreign, exciting, and intimidating When I decided to do my thesis on refugee resettle ment, I chose to go back to the IRC to build on my experiences from the previous summer. I had originally hoped for my research to directly includ e refugee clients at the IRC.


2 However, research on refugees is problematic in a n umber of ways. First of all, most refugees who come to the United States do not speak English fluently, so achieving informed consent would be very difficult. Had I worked with only those who did speak English proficiently, my results woul d have been very biased, as refugees who come to the United States not speaking English have considerably different experiences during resettlement than thos e who do. Furthermore, the executive director of the IRC and I both agreed tha t it would not be ethically acceptable for me to collect information on refugee clients through my position there as an intern, especially when, as an intern, I had access to their personal information and records. Also there would likely be confusion about whether the research was part of the resettlement program; some refugee clients might believe that the research was for the IRC and that they wer e obligated to participate. Given these constraints, I focused on resettlement workers’ experiences and perspectives. Looking back, I’m glad this was the a pproach I took, as my review of the refugee studies literature revealed that the perspective of resettlement workers has been generally underrepresented. About the International Rescue Committee The International Rescue Committee was formed in 19 42 through the merging of the International Relief Association, fo unded in 1933, and the Emergency Rescue Committee, founded in 1940. It is one of the largest refugee resettlement voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) in the Uni ted States. However, the agency’s work extends well outside of the United St ates; with headquarters in


3 New York, Washington DC, London, Brussels, and Gene va, as well as regional offices located throughout much of the world. The I RC’s mission statement reads, “The International Rescue Committee serves refugees and communities victimized by oppression or violent conflict worldw ide. Founded in 1933, the IRC is committed to freedom, human dignity, and self-re liance. This commitment is expressed in emergency relief, protection of human rights, post-conflict development, resettlement assistance, and advocacy” (IRC NDa). As mentioned in the mission statement, the organiza tion has many programs related to emergency relief aside from ref ugee resettlement, including immediate response, health initiatives, infrastruct ure rebuilding, reuniting separated parties, and programs aimed toward the “e mpowerment” of women and girls. These programs respond to many types of cata strophes, including natural disasters, environmental degradation, and conflict. The IRC also advocates on behalf of “refugees, displaced people, and other vi ctims of conflict,” promoting public awareness as well as government and internat ional organization action and policy development. The IRC is one of the ten voluntary agencies with w hom the US government contracts to help with the reception and placement of admitted refugees. The IRC has twenty-two resettlement offic es in the United States, but is not involved in resettlement in other countries. In 2006, the IRC resettled 5,029 of the 41,053 refugees resettled in the US, and in 200 7 it resettled 6,904 of 48,281 refugees (ORR: Annual Reports to Congress 2010; ORR : Refugee Arrival Data


4 2010). In 2009, the agency resettled more than 9,00 0 refugees (IRC: Refugee Resettlement NDb). About the IRC Atlanta The Atlanta office of the IRC was founded in 1979 i n Decatur, just outside of Clarkson, GA. By its thirty year anniversary in 2009, the Atlanta office had resettled more than 19,000 refugees from 45 countri es (Beasley 2009). The IRC Atlanta has a number of departments, including Rese ttlement, Logistics, Immigration, Education, and Administration, and cur rently has a staff of about 45. The resettlement department consists of case manage rs and job developers, who are responsible for guiding refugee clients through the resettlement process, determining their eligibility for different assista nce programs and helping them get assistance, making home visits and meeting with refugee clients regularly to ensure that they are receiving the core services to which they are entitled by law and that their specific needs are attended to, and helping them gain employment. The logistics department tends to a number of servi ces, including airport pickup, housing and furnishings, applying for necessary doc uments, scheduling medical appointments, registering for school, and providing transportation and translation as needed. The education department provides a numb er of programs, including English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, classes specifically for women to teach them a range of skills, classes for members o f families that qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), job preparedness classes, a


5 computer lab and computer classes, GRE preparation classes, an after school program, and a youth summer camp. The immigration department helps refugee clients re apply for green cards each year after their first year in the United Stat es and helps them apply for citizenship once they are eligible after five years The administration at the IRC Atlanta oversees each department, manages funding and coordinates the delivery of cash assist ance to refugees, secures funding sources including public and private grants and general fundraising, communicates with other IRC offices and headquarter s, and corresponds with other refugee groups and offices and advocates loca lly and regionally on behalf of the IRC, its clients, and refugees in general. The staff also includes a volunteer coordinator, wh o recruits volunteers and interns to work in the office and volunteers wh o go work with refugee clients outside of the office to provide general informatio n about the United States and American culture and to answer questions. The volun teer coordinator also runs the IRC “store,” where refugees can use vouchers to “buy” donated items. Additionally, the staff includes a receptionist, wh o schedules and coordinates meetings with refugee clients and other parties on behalf of IRC employees. The backgrounds of the IRC Atlanta staff are an int eresting mix. Collectively, they speak a wide range of languages, including Burmese, Nepalese, Chin, Arabic, Swahili, French, and Spanish. Althoug h I did not get to interview everyone in the office regarding their specific sto ries and motivations for working in refugee resettlement, there do seem to be some g eneral trends. About half of


6 the office staff is US-born and about half is forei gn-born; many in the latter category were themselves refugees. Among these grou ps, although not by any means in all cases, the foreign-born employees are more likely to have families, and the US-born employees are more likely not to ha ve children, although some of these are married. Foreign-born employees with w hom I spoke generally had a personal interest in refugee resettlement, either b ecause they were themselves refugees or, as immigrants, identified with refugee s going through the resettlement process. US-born employees with whom I spoke, on the other hand, in almost all cases had very limited exposure to re fugee resettlement or refugees in general prior to working at the IRC. However, ma ny had gone to school for anthropology or international studies and had sough t internationally-related employment in an multi-cultural environment in the non-profit sector, where they came across the IRC and refugee resettlement. These differences did not seem to translate into di visions or segments within the office. Although social activities I att ended outside of the office tended to involve mostly employees without families; emplo yees throughout the office spoke and socialized constantly. The break room dem onstrated how genuine these interactions were: IRC employees do not have a desi gnated lunch period, so different combinations of people ate together each day, but the conversation tended to be equally lively and friendly regardless of who was eating together at any given time. Furthermore, I almost never heard e mployees speak negatively of each other. While I was not close enough to many em ployees to discuss their personal lives in much detail, those with whom I wa s close did not generally


7 speak negatively about their coworkers—although on some occasions they did criticize their supervisors. Regardless, the office environment at the IRC was notably lacking in gossip or inter-staff negativity and seemed remarkably coherent and mutually respectful, despite background differe nces. About My Research For my thesis research at the IRC, I intended to do participant observation through my second round of interning in the resettl ement department and to conduct interviews with staff from different depart ments and at different levels. Unfortunately, my research got off to a rocky start as I had quite a bit of difficulty contacting the executive director of the IRC Atlanta to get approval, which in turn delayed approval for my research from New College’s Institutional Review Board. Since I did not get IRB approval unti l after my internship had started, I ended up conducting my interviews during the fall and winter during breaks when I returned home. I also conducted two i nterviews over the phone and continued one of these through email. As a resettlement intern, much of my perspective—a nd thus much of my thesis research and thesis—centered on tasks perfor med in the resettlement department. There was some tension and also some co mplementariness between my objectives as an intern and as a researcher. One condition of the approval for my research was that it not interfere with my dutie s as an intern nor take others away from their work, which limited my opportunitie s for taking notes and conducting interviews. However, I believe it was ea sier to fit in as an intern


8 conducting research than it would have been as just a researcher, and the staff readily explained a great deal of detailed informat ion to facilitate my responsibilities as an intern. Furthermore, my role as an intern allowed me to participate in the resettlement process—a fundament al component of the participant observation through which much of my re search was conducted. Engaging with the resettlement process provided me insight into the system that I doubt I could have gained otherwise. In addition to my intern position offering me an “in,” it also provided distance—I was not techni cally a member of the staff, and, although it was my second summer interning and I was more familiar with the staff than many of the other interns, I was gen erally considered part of the temporary intern group. Furthermore, although I was assigned to work with a case manager, she was often engaged when I needed new as signments, so I had either had some free time to take notes or was able to ask other employees if they needed assistance, which broadened my exposure to t he resettlement process. Unfortunately, I was not able to conduct as many i nterviews as I had initially hoped, both because of my own time constr aints and those of the staff. Refugee resettlement is very busy work and most emp loyees have no free time during the day; it was difficult to schedule interv iews. Furthermore, I tended to have best access to employees with whom I had worke d, generally resettlement and logistics staff and not education, immigration, or administration staff, although I did interview the finance manager, the v olunteer coordinator, and the receptionist. Within resettlement and logistics, I interviewed two job developers, one of whom was previously a case manager, the logi stics coordinator, the health


9 specialist, and the school specialist. I scheduled an interview with another case manager but he did not come at the scheduled time. I was, however, able to interview a former IRC case manager with whom I had worked the previous summer. Because of the difficulty in scheduling int erviews, some employees requested that interviews take place at the office, in secluded areas on breaks from their work. I agreed to this because it seemed unli kely that these employees would have any other free time, even though I preferred t hat interviews take place offsite. Unfortunately, some of these on-site intervie ws were cut short due to distractions. Most of the interviews, however, took place off-site and were not limited by time constraints. Also, while I was able to formally interview Frank, a successfully resettled refugee, and Sylvia, a legal immigrant, the other employees I interviewed were US-born.1 Ideally, the group of interviewees would better reflect the ratio of USto foreign-born employees on the staff; if I were able to do additional research I would try to improve this, es pecially including more of the employees who are themselves refugees. About the Thesis While refugee studies is a growing field (Malkki 1 995; Black 2001), its growth has been uneven. Much of the research done i n refugee resettlement focuses either on policy or on individual refugee g roups. There are fewer analyses of the actual resettlement process, and most of the se focus on the efficacy of a given resettlement program or approach based on a f ew very quantitative criteria such as employment, performance in school, and Engl ish proficiency. These 1 All IRC employees’ names have been changed.


10 criteria provide limited insight in some contexts a nd are arguably unreliable in others ( see Haines 2010). While some evaluations did use first -hand accounts of refugees, none that I saw used the accounts or pers pectives of resettlement workers and few were conducted recently. Based on m y experience at the IRC, it is very likely that individual resettlement agencie s are conducting more up-to-date and comprehensive research; however, much of this i nformation is likely proprietary and not readily available to the public or researchers. Moreover, anthropological investigation of refugee resettlement has been notably limited, although research on refugee exper iences from displacement to refugee campus as well as on specific refugee group s post-resettlement have been conducted much more frequently. These trends are cl ear among the nine publications of the Commission on Refugee Issues of the American Anthropological Association. Furthermore, this comm ission was founded in 1988 but now appears to have become defunct. In this thesis, I seek to shift some of the focus i n refugee studies. I want to use anthropological approaches to elucidate the res ettlement process—situating the development of the refugee system and the reset tlement program in historical and cultural contexts, explaining the components an d the major players involved in the process, describing the structures and polic ies that dictate and circumscribe resettlement, and identifying to what extent and in what ways resettlement workers are able to affect and define the process. Chapter One describes the historical development of the global refugee system and delineates some of the major conceptual issues regarding who is to be incl uded under the definition of a


11 refugee and how reconceptualizations have affected the system. Chapter Two explains the specific history of refugee resettleme nt in the United States, what programs have been developed for refugee resettleme nt, and how certain tensions in the US have affected refugee admittance and rese ttlement. Chapter Three presents the ethnographic section of the thesis and describes the system, its prescriptions, and its challenges as seen on the gr ound, as well as strategies resettlement workers and agencies use to address th ose challenges and redefine the system. In the final chapter, I elaborate and e xamine the implications of the research and discuss some of the issues likely to b e faced in refugee resettlement in the future.


12 Chapter One: Background of the Refugee System 1951 Convention and United Nations High Commissione r for Refugees At the end of 2009, there were 43.3 million uproote d people documented worldwide, comprised of 15.2 million refugees, 983, 000 asylum seekers, and 27.1 million internally displaced persons (UNHCR 2010a). The 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and i ts 1967 Protocol define a refugee as: A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the c ountry of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, i s unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his fo rmer habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. (United Nations General Assembly 2007) Following World War II, 11 million people in Wester n Europe were displaced. In order to address this situation, and following the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations cre ated the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and formed the U nited Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 1951. The orig inal convention related only to displaced persons, mainly in Western Europe who had been displaced prior to January 1, 1951 (Gallagher 1989). Addition ally, the UNHCR was only given a temporary authority of three years and a bu dget of $300,000 (Haines 1996). The 1951 Convention stated that refugees had a right to seek asylum, although signing states were not obligated to grant asylum. Furthermore, signing states were prohibited from a practice called refoulement —sending asylum-


13 seekers back into their country of origin or of hab itual residence where they were being persecuted. The future of the UNHCR was initially uncertain and the agency received limited support from UN member states (Haines 1996) However, because of recurring crises producing displaced persons, its a uthority was extended. Additionally, crises and conflicts in other parts o f the world, such as wars for independence in colonial states, were beginning to produce large numbers of displaced persons. In 1964, the UNHCR Executive Com mittee began formally discussing the removal of the clause of the 1951 Co nvention requiring that the displacement had occurred before January 1, 1951. T his discussion resulted in the creation of the 1967 Protocol to the Convention, wh ich removed both the temporal and spatial limitations of the Convention. Thus, refugees are defined as individuals who, eith er due to persecution as members of a group or political affiliation, or due to war, famine, or violence, are forced to flee their homeland and cross a national border to seek protection, or “asylum,” in another country. Once granted asylum, the refugee also becomes an “asylee.” The UNHCR has three “durable solutions” t hat it seeks to offer refugees. The most preferable is “voluntary repatri ation”: if there is no longer a risk of persecution or hardship, refugees may retur n to their homeland. The second most preferable is “local integration”: the refugees may settle permanently in the country of first asylum if the host governme nt allows them to do so. While the status of refugees may be conferred upon anyone fitting the description of the 1951 Convention, the term asylee relates to the legal status of a


14 refugee within a country—whether or not he or she h as been granted asylum by that government. Asylum is normally granted by only one state because many states are reluctant to grant asylum when the asylu m-seeker has already been given protection by a first country of asylum. Howe ver, when the first two durable solutions—voluntary repatriation to the cou ntry of origin or of habitual residence and assimilation as a permanent resident in the country of first asylum—have been determined unfeasible, a refugee m ay be permanently resettled in a “safe” third country. Once located in these countries, termed “countries of first asylum,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) repr esentatives visit refugee populations, register them, and work to protect the ir human rights and provide for their safety and well-being. Generally, in order to qualify as a “refugee,” a person either has to provide documentation showing that he or she has been persecuted as an individual—based on political actions or affilia tion, for example—or, in the case of an entire group that is being persecuted, g ive proof that he or she is a member of that group. However, if there is a continued risk in the home country and the country of first asylum is unwilling or unable to offer pro tection and threatens refoulement then resettlement is considered. The UNHCR and re settlement countries work together to determine in which count ry refugees will be resettled. Family ties, trade skills, professional abilities, language facility and various other factors are taken into account. Because the UNHCR w ould prefer either of the other two durable solutions—repatriation or integra tion into the country of


15 asylum—only one percent of refugees in the world ar e referred for resettlement, and refugees often spend years waiting in camps bef ore they enter the resettlement process (IRC 2010:2-2). Generally, when it does become necessary, the UNHCR coordinates the resettlement of refugees into other countries. Elev en countries—Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, the Netherlands, N ew Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United States2—have established refugee resettlement programs, with the United States accep ting over half of all refugees resettled. Resettlement in the United States is und ertaken through a coordinated effort among the federal government—namely the Bure au of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) within the Department of State and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), individual state governments, ten volunteer agencies or “VOLAGs,” and associated programs and organizations In this arrangement, the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) monitors global situations in which people have been displaced and have crosse d an international border, helps fund UNHCR and NGO programs for these refugee s and coordinates the US Refugee Admission Program, while the Office of Refu gee Resettlement monitors 2 Japan announced it would begin resettling refugees in 2008 and admitted its first refugees in September 2010 (UNHCR 2010c). In 2010 the UNHCR rel eased a press release “[urging] more countries to establish refugee resettlement program mes [ sic ]” (UNHCR 2010b). The statement said, “UNHCR estimates that over the next three to five years more than 805,000 refugees will need resettling in third countries, as there will n either be a possibility for them to return to their homes nor there will there be integration options i n countries presently sheltering them…. Meanwhile, the annual quotas offered by states [wit h resettlement programs has] remained unchanged at 80,000 slots.”


16 resettlement programs and administers federal funds to state and local governments and to VOLAGS. Who Can Be a Refugee? The development of the legal definition of a refuge e under the UN Convention just described is not the only one in op eration, and no notion of a refugee has remained static. Concepts of a “refugee ”, both legal and theoretical, vary over time, space, and context. Recognizing how a refugee is conceptualized in different contexts and under different parameter s is necessary in order to not essentialize refugees as a group; variations in the definition highlight that refugees do not represent a static, generic perspective or e xperience. As anthropologist Liisa Malkki says: The quest for the refugee experience (whether as analytical model, normative standard, or diagnostic tool) reflect s a wider tendency, in many disciplines, to seize upon political or histor ical processes and then to inscribe aspects of those processes in the bodies and psyches of the people who are undergoing them. In this way, very m obile, unstable social phenomena may be imagined as essential "traits" and "characteristics" attached to, or emanating from, individual persons. (1995:511) The modern concept of the refugee was solidified af ter World War II, although its development began post-World War I (Ga llagher 1989, Malkki 1995, Keely 2001). Moreover, as Malkki points out, the pe ople displaced by the events of World War II were not the first “refugees;” “Peo ple have always sought refuge and sanctuary” (1995:497). This conception of a ref ugee grew out of the specific circumstances of a war-torn and militarized Europe, where 11 million people were displaced following the war, as well as a nascent i dea of universal human rights


17 and a new understanding of internationalism. Initia lly, the enormous number of displaced persons was viewed as a military problem and only later as a humanitarian issue. These refugees were held and pr ocessed in the first refugee camps, modeled after military barracks, and some fo rmer concentration camps were even turned into “Assembly Centres” for refuge es after the war ended (Malkki 1995:499-500). Through the adoption of the Refugee Convention and the creation of the United Nations High Commissioner fo r Refugees (UNHCR) in 1951, these particular understandings and approache s became standardized into an international system for the management of displace d persons, and the “refugee” became a new social and legal category. The concept of a “refugee” as normatively defined i s predicated upon the existence of nation-states from which one is seekin g refuge. In international legal terminology, there is a distinction made between In ternally Displaced Persons (IDPs), who are displaced inside of the nation in w hich they are being persecuted, and asylees and refugees, who have crossed at least one international border. Charles Keely describes the position refugees hold in the nation-state system: “In the contemporary geopolitical system, everybody bel ongs somewhere. Statelessness is normatively deviant…Flows of refug ees unable to receive their state's protection are not only deviant, they also threaten geopolitical structures based on the sovereign state” (1996:1051). If there were no system of nationstates—although there could be people fleeing perse cution, exiles, or those seeking refuge for whatever reason—there could be n o “refugees” as the concept currently exists. Keely further argues that refugee s generally are produced when,


18 through multinational conflict, revolution, or stat e implosion, a nation-state fails to maintain itself and its people. Thus, in this un derstanding, the international refugee management system is not primarily driven b y humanitarian sentiments; it is a way to mitigate the threat that stateless, dis placed people pose by their very nature: “[The] political basis for the internationa l refugee regime is the protection of states and the international system of states th at is threatened when states fail to fulfill their proper roles” (1996:1057). In addition to exploring the meaning and implicatio ns of this dominant legal concept, many authors explore the “theoretica l refugee,” the essential experience through which a refugee is created. Thes e conceptualizations are based on a similar notion, that the idea of a refugee is predicated upon the existence of the nation-state system and, if not, on the existen ce of some larger social collective. In this understanding, the fundamental idea is that nation-states—or other collectivities—have an obligation to protect their citizens, and when this relationship is broken the citizens have the right to leave. Expanding on Keely’s assertion that “a state is not behaving as a state should when people flee or are forced out because of racial, ethnic, religious, or political reasons” (1996:1057), Andrew Shacknove claims that states are obligated t o provide “physical security, vital subsistence, liberty of political participati on and physical movement” (1985:281) and a violation of these obligations can as effectively sever the bond between state and citizen as can direct persecution In discussions of refugee status, distinctions are often drawn among economic hardships, natural disasters, and political persecution on the basis that economi c hardships and natural


19 disasters are not the fault of governments nor are they targeted towards any specific individuals or groups. However, Shacknove points out that in circumstances of economic hardship and natural disa ster, states have an obligation to protect their citizens as much as possible, and if they do not the bond between state and citizen can be considered severed. Although, according to Shacknove, such events are grounds for nullification of the implicit contract between stat es and citizens, due to state sovereignty this severing alone does not “free” the citizens—in other words, create refugees—so long as they remain physically w ithin the borders of the state. While in theory migration shouldn’t be necessary fo r the bond to be broken and citizens to be able to freely seek refuge, on a pra ctical level these people cannot receive aid from the international community as ref ugees because they are still under their states’ power and states generally seek to prevent citizens from leaving their borders. In order to escape state con trol and gain access to international assistance, often circumstances have to arise that render states unable to prevent affected individuals from leaving and seeking it. So, in Shacknove’s conceptualization, refugees are those f or whom the government fails to provide and maintain basic needs, who have no ot her options for meeting those needs, and, crucially, who have access to internati onal aid. Immigration and refugee policy expert Susan F. Mart in uses these basic premises in a more pragmatic way to explain the cir cumstances under which the UNHCR ought to provide assistance to those whose st ates are not looking after their well-being (2010). She describes four situati ons: where the state is willing


20 and able to protect its citizens; where the state i s willing but unable to protect its citizens; where the state is unwilling but able; an d where the state is unwilling and unable to protect its citizens. She asserts that in these latter categories, where the state is unwilling to protect its citizens, whether or not they are able, the refugee regime should assist those seeking protection. Howe ver, she does not advocate that the regime should take action within the count ry, but rather that it should help to facilitate border crossing and make assistance a vailable to those who are able to cross the border. Her scenario upholds the idea tha t states have an obligation to protect their citizens, that it is the cessation of that willingness to protect—not necessarily actual threats to their well-being—that constitutes the “persecution.” However, like the normative definition as well as t hat of Shacknove, the refugee is only created upon exiting the state because of t he predominance of the sovereignty of the nation-state. Indeed, in many conceptions of “refugee,” how the nation-state system is constructed determines what it means to be a refuge e; however, the construction of the nation-state system is not a given. Keely di scusses the development of the current nation-state system and what concepts and i deals are integral to its functioning, one of which is state sovereignty. Alt hough he describes state sovereignty as one of the “hallmarks of the state,” he explains that there is also disagreement as to what constitutes state sovereign ty. Malkki explains that the refugee regime was formed during a time when the pr ospect of an international state was on the horizon. She describes the distinc tion between the “internationalism of nations” and the “internationa lism of transcendent values”—


21 the idea that there is something greater and inhere ntly different than the sum of the nation-state parts (1995:502). The recognition of the possibility of a fundamental shift in the nature of global order, an d the possibility of a shift away from the nation-state system, inherently implies a shift in, or possibly the elimination of, the concept of the refugee. Malkki encourages “a denaturalizing, questioning stance towards the national order of th ings as a promising site from which to identify new research directions in the st udy of refugees, exile, displacement, and diaspora…” (1995:517). While it i s important to discuss the nature of a refugee within certain theoretical para meters, it is also important to understand the potential of those parameters to cha nge. In addition to discussing how refugees are defined theoretically, it is imperative to review how refugees have been defined legally. The dominant definition, as has been discussed, is the definitio n found in the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refuge es and its 1967 Protocol. While the convention provides a basic definition th at is expected to be recognized by its signatories, there are other legal definitio ns in place that expand upon this base. Many individual countries have their own lega l refugee definitions and some examples can show how contextually dependent t he concept of a refugee is. In 1969, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), an organization formed to improve relations and cooperation among A frican nations and to “eradicate all forms of colonialism from Africa” (O AU Charter 1963), adopted the Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Re fugee Problems in Africa. This Convention added to the 1951 UN Convention def inition:


22 The term "refugee" shall also apply to every person who, owing to external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or events seriously disturbing public order in either part or the whole of his country of origin or nationality, is compelled to l eave his place of habitual residence in order to seek refuge in anoth er place outside his country of origin or nationality. (OAU Refugee Convention 1969) Additionally, the Convention expands upon the expec tations of member states to admit asylum seekers, notes that granting asylum is not to be perceived by member states as an act of aggression, only as o ne of peace and humanitarian intent, and provides an avenue through which states overburdened by asylees can seek assistance from other member states in order t o share the burden. Similarly, in 1984, the Colloquium on the International Protec tion of Refugees in Central America, Mexico and Panama adopted the Cartagena De claration on Refugees, which recommended that Latin American states also e xpand their definitions of refugees to include “persons who have fled their co untry because their lives, safety, or freedom have been threatened by generali zed violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation o f human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order” (Cartagena Declaration 1984: Conclusion 3). The Declaration wa s endorsed by the General Assembly of the Organization of American States and some Latin American states have incorporated this expansion into their own refugee legislation (Martin 2010). These expansional definitions—whether adopted or m erely recommended—reflect the different circumstances of displaced persons in postWWII Europe and those of African and Latin American states in colonial


23 struggles. They belie the notion that there is a tr ue, static, and inherent “refugeeness”; rather, what constitutes a refugee is depend ent upon the historical context, what threats are acknowledged and how they are unde rstood, and what rights people are perceived as having, among other things. Shacknove points out: Clearly, the OAU and the UN definitions reflect mar kedly different historical contexts. The latter was a response to t he European totalitarian experience when, indeed, refugees were primarily the persecuted victims of highly organized predatory st ates…[The] OAU definition recognizes…that the normal bond betw een the citizen and the state can be severed in diverse wa ys, persecution being but one. Societies periodically disintegrate because of their frailty rather than because of their ferocity, vict ims of domestic division or foreign intervention. (1985:276) Beyond variations in legal definitions, the discuss ion of what defines a refugee has also been influenced through evolving i nterpretations of the 1951 UN Convention and 1967 Protocol definition itself. The most outstanding example of this is the change in interpretation to incorporate gender-based discrimination. In 1985, the UNHCR released its Conclusion No. 39 on R efugee Women and International Protection. The Policy on Refugee Wom en was released in 1990, Guidelines on the Protection of Refugee Women in 19 91, and in 2002 the UNHCR released the Guidelines on International Prot ection No. 1: GenderRelated Persecution within the context of Article 1 A(2) of the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. These documents came out in an effort to incorporate refugee women more in programs and policies and to help provide guidance to states wit h regard to processing refugee claims on the basis of gender-based persecution.


24 Gender is not a basis for persecution explicitly co vered in the UN Convention Definition; the only categories that are covered are race, nationality, religion, and membership in a specific social group or political opinion. In the 1985 Conclusion, the UNHCR explained that, in proce ssing claims where women claimed they had been mistreated for violating cult ural customs, these women could be processed on the grounds that they were me mbers of a particular social group (Musalo 2010). In the 1991 guidelines, the UN HCR specified that gender was not a basis for persecution covered under the C onvention definition, but reiterated that women who had breached social mores could be covered under the special group category, and expanded that women cla iming to have experienced rape or sexual assault during war, or who had exper ienced extreme sexual discrimination, could also be covered under the soc ial group category in the Convention definition. In the 2002 Guidelines, the UNHCR drew on a number of sources to provide more comprehensive guidance in processing c laims with a gender component and “unequivocally state that a proper in terpretation of the refugee convention ‘covers gender-related claims” (Musalo 2 010:51). The Guidelines provide a list of mistreatments that can constitute persecution and state that the Convention definition category of “social group” is sufficient and the definition does not need to be expanded in order to cover thes e claims. Another concern about applying the refugee definition to gender-bas ed claims was that in standard refugee claims, the persecutors were state actors, but that in these gender-based cases the persecutors were generally non-state acto rs. The Guidelines resolved


25 this contention by explaining that if the non-state actor harmed the victim on the basis of one of the categories of the definition, o r if the state is unwilling to prevent the mistreatment on the basis of one of the categories, then the mistreatment constitutes persecution. Since the pro duction of these documents, several major resettlement countries have incorpora ted these approaches in their claim processing, although some—including the U.S.— have developed their own approaches that vary in some ways from UNHCR recomm endations. Martin sees these developments as a significant con ceptual step in defining what constitutes a refugee: In keeping with this understanding of the refugee r egime, the basis of the persecution (gender versus another protected ground), the instigator of the harm (a Government or non-state a ctor), and, even the geographic location of the potential victim (wi thin or outside of their origin country) become less important factors in determining whether someone deserves international protection t han the willingness of the home Government to provide prote ction (2010:119). She believes that this shift is promising for expan ding the definition to other groups who are frequently discussed in refugee stud ies literature and whose potential status as refugees is controversial. Fur thermore, she claims that it is consistent with a trend that goes back to the creat ion of the UNHCR in 1951— that the definition has expanded in response to cha nging circumstances—and that the trend is heading toward “[protecting] persons w hose own Governments cannot or will not provide such protection” (2010:120). Th ere are two prominent groups


26 whose potential recognition under the refugee act—o r lack thereof—is frequently discussed: “economic migrants” and “environmental r efugees”.3 The category of “economic migrants” or “economic re fugees” and the normative dichotomy between “economic” and “politic al” refugees have long existed in refugee theory, law, and application. Th e fundamental idea is that migrants who leave their home simply because they w ant an opportunity for a better life elsewhere are economic migrants and are not entitled to protection under the 1951 Refugee Convention. However, “econom ic refugee” and “economic migrant”—which are often used interchange ably—are not legal categories and have been used by governments to dis credit the claims of refugee status applicants. Furthermore, because the categor y is not clearly defined and because of pressure within governments to limit gra nts of asylum, the category is often used to reject applicants any time there is a ny kind of economic element to their claim. Michelle Foster, director of the Inter national Refugee Law Research Programme at Melbourne Law School, highlights three implicit assumptions that underlie this category which lend it credibility an d perpetuate its use: first, that economic migrants move “voluntarily” whereas politi cal migrants move “involuntarily;” second, that there is no distingui shable actor that is causing the harm and no “intent” behind the harm; and third, th at the harm is affecting a whole class of people and therefore it is not targe ted specifically towards anyone (2007:6-11). Foster finds all of these assumptions to be problematic and excessively simplistic. 3 Both of these expressions are contested, but they are also the most commonly used terms for these groups.


27 Some economic circumstances are so dire that it is hard to argue that fleeing them is “voluntary”—which implies that not fleeing them is an equally plausible option. Conversely, in some of the catego ries covered in the Convention there is a clear element of choice, notably among t hose who are persecuted for their political or religious affiliation. Attemptin g to neatly divide migration choices as “voluntary” or “involuntary” is clearly untenable as there is a range of restriction in choice and agency. Second, there is an assumption that economic hardships are simply a result of “natural condition s”—they are not in anyone’s control, nor are they specifically inflicted upon a nyone for any reason. However, there are cases where the causes of economic hardsh ips are specific actors with specific intentions—for example, when governments r estrict food availability as a means of coercion or manipulation. Thus, it cannot be assumed that economic measures cannot be used by some against others for political purposes. Third, the idea that those fleeing economic hardships cannot b e considered refugees because they have not been “singled out” is inconsistent wi th other applications of refugee law whereby large groups of people are covered unde r the Convention. Analyses of distribution of poverty that demonstrate uneven levels of poverty based on attributes such as gender or race contribute to the renunciation of these latter assumptions by showing that economic conditions are not completely out of control and that they can be targeted towards certa in groups. Sociologist Jeremy Hein points out that if politica l refugees and economic migrants are viewed from a world systems theory per spective, with wealthy,


28 industrialized nations at the “core” and poor, deve loping nations at the “periphery,” the two categories have much in common : The world system perspective makes few distinctions between refugees and [economic migrants]…The Third World s helters 96% of the world's 17.5 million refugees, suggest ing that producing or accepting large numbers of refugees may be a component of peripheral status…Economic developm ent and assistance to refugees are inseparable issues…beca use the "refugee" is an indicator of world system dynam ics. (1993:45) In other words, the production of refugees and econ omic migrants in peripheral countries is a product of the peripheral position, marked by poverty, limited power and resources, and dependence on wealthier, m ore developed nations. This is akin to a cold causing a sore throat and a runny nose; the symptoms may be different but the condition is the same. Foster points out that there have been efforts in the past to break down the economic-political dichotomy. The UNHCR 1979 handbo ok explains, “If [a migrant] is moved exclusively by economic considera tions, he is an economic migrant and is not a refugee…The distinction…is, ho wever, sometimes blurred in the same way as the distinction between economic an d political measures in an applicant’s country of origin is not always clear” (UNHCR 1992). Foster sees two possibilities for clarification here: 1) an applica nt should only be disqualified from refugee status if his/her motivation for movem ent is exclusively economic— which implies that an acceptable claim for refugee status could include an economic component, and 2) the recognition that pol itical aggression can take the form of economic measures. The handbook also explai ns: “Where economic measures destroy the economic existence of a partic ular section of the


29 population…the victims may according to the circums tances become refugees on leaving the country” (UNHCR 1992). Contrary to the idea that the 1951 Convention is l imited and unable to address the complexities of deconstructing the poli tical-economic dichotomy, Foster believes that novel approaches to interpreti ng the Convention definition could permit some economic migrants to be covered a nd accorded protection (2010). She cites three reasons why this approach s eems promising: first, recent developments indicate that the Convention is a flex ible document that has demonstrated responsiveness to similar issues, such as gender-based persecution; second, economic rights are becoming more formally recognized and movements have been made toward defining states’ obligations regarding economic rights and holding governments responsible for violations of t hose rights; and third, there is growing jurisprudence in processing refugee claims that takes economic components into account. “Environmental refugees” are another group of displ aced persons who are not covered under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. M any of the complications faced by the category of environmental refuges are the same as those faced by economic refugees, in part because environmental re fugees are often dismissed as being economic refugees. The expression “environmen tal refugee” is generally used to describe the millions of people displaced d ue to an inability to remain in their homelands because of environmental disruption caused by a range of forces, such as desertification, deforestation, soil erosio n, and rising sea levels. The term first became popular after being use in a 1985 publ ication of the United Nations


30 Environmental Programme (UNEP). In 1995, the number of traditional refugees totaled almost 22 million; it is estimated that thi s same year there were 27 million “environmental refugees” (Myers 2002). In 2004, UNE P’s director estimated that in 2010 there would be 50 million (McNamara 2007). However, sociologist Gaim Kibreab argues, “We are already in 2010 and there i s no evidence to suggest that this happened” (2010:388) and claims that there is not a reliable estimate for environmentally displaced persons, partially becaus e the work to count them has not been done and partially because the definition varies greatly. Defining this category, the extent of obligation to provide assis tance to them, and how assistance should be provided are all contentious i ssues. First of all, the range of forces that can cause environmental change sufficie nt to displace people is broad. These forces can include natural disasters, gradual environmental degradation, and expropriation of land for intentional land-use change, such as in dam construction. These different types of disruption v ary in duration—whether their effects are temporary or indefinite, in cause—wheth er natural or anthropogenic, and in intentionality (Bates 2002). Furthermore, en vironmental disruption can also have indirect effects, making its culpability difficult to assess. Environmental degradation often affects people’s livelihoods, and they often do not necessarily feel the consequences until they have been “filtere d through the local economic context” (Bates 2002:475). Environmental degradatio n can also instigate or exacerbate conflict. Because of this variety of causes, development of a comprehensive response system is difficult, but assessing obligat ion for the development of such


31 is even more challenging. The first confounding iss ue is the perceived level of agency of environmental migrants. Often, those who move due to environmental degradation are held responsible because their live lihoods—such as agriculture, pastoralism, or fishing, —are seen as the drivers o f the degradation, and other factors are ignored. Furthermore, in the establishe d refugee system entitlement to assistance is based upon the voluntariness of the m igration. Refugees fleeing persecution are involuntary migrants, whereas those moving for economic reasons, no matter how dire, are considered volunta ry. Thus the fact that effects of environmental degradation are filtered through the economy makes it difficult to argue that these “environmental refugees” are not “ voluntary,” “economic” refugees. Because economic forces are so belittled in refugee discourse, the acknowledgement of the role of economic factors in defining the experience of economic refugees has apparently created a division among those fighting for the recognition of environmental refugees. For example, Kibreab argues that understanding migration due to environmental disrup tion requires a holistic approach that incorporates all relevant factors, in cluding economic and social factors (1997). Karen Elizabeth McNamara, an enviro nmental specialist who focuses on environmental refugees, argues, on the o ther hand, that incorporating other factors makes migration seem voluntary and he nce “[downplays] the seriousness of the issue, which in a legal context [serves] to only further delegitimize the issue… This discourse [alters] the subject identity of those displaced because of environmental change. It [does ] so in ways that [strips] the


32 environmental refugee of possible claims to asylum and basic human rights” (2007:16-17). The discussion has been further complicated by the issue of the environmental impacts of refugees. Although the Uni ted Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was initially central in bringing recognition to the plight of those facing environmental disruption, its focus ha s since shifted towards mitigating the environmental impacts of migration a nd temporary (although often long-term) lodging of refugee populations. In this discussion, refugees are often considered to be “exceptional resource degraders” ( Kibreab 1997). While efforts should be made to reduce the environmental impacts of refugee movements, this process should not involve demonizing refugees, and it should not detract attention from the growing population of environmen tally displaced persons. Another issue is determining obligation to assist w hen environmental degradation is the result of global structures as o pposed to local activity. Pollution and environmental change do not occur solely on the local level; natural resources, agricultural products, and waste are shi pped around the world as part of a global system, with developed nations frequently paying developing nations to bear the brunt of the ecological burden. Thus, alth ough environmental degradation may result immediately from local activity, that ac tivity should be viewed on a global scale. This issue is especially relevant to anthropogenic global climate change: developed nations, namely the United States have historically produced the majority of the greenhouse gases that have driv en climate change, yet it is the developing nations that are feeling the strongest e ffects of climate change with


33 limited resources to mitigate these effects. Derek R. Bell, a political philosopher who focuses on the ethics and politics of climate c hange, explains, “The role of developed nations in creating environmental burdens for less developed nations might suggest an historic injustice that needs to b e rectied. On this approach, duties to environmental refugees would be duties of corrective or recticatory justice” (2004:139). He concludes that these duties need not be rectificatory because assistance should be offered for other reas ons. However, given decreasing support for even legally-recognized poli tical refugees in many of these nations, many of whom are also key member nations i n the United Nations, it seems unlikely that many developed nations or the U N will feel compelled of their own volition out of a sense of rectification, or even because they think it’s the right thing to do without admitting any respons ibility ( see McNamara 2007). While alternative interpretations of the 1951 Refug e Convention have allowed it to be applied to less traditional types of claims—i.e. gender-based persecution—and some authors believe that there is potential for new interpretations to allow expansion of the Conventio n to cover new groups (Foster 2010, Martin 2010), it is unclear what prospects th ere are for “environmental refugees.” The policy paper “Climate Change, Natura l Disasters, and Human Migration: a UNHCR Perspective,” released by UNHCR in 2009, calls attention to the migratory flows that may result from climate change in the coming decades. The document explains that some of these migrants m ay be covered under the traditional refugee definition, and, for other migr ants, posits how the existing framework of the UNHCR and other UN agencies could provide the best response


34 to these flows. However, the paper also indicates t hat there is little support within the agency to open the Convention for renegotiation expressing discomfort regarding the term “environmental refugee” and conc ern that its use could negatively affect the assistance provided to refuge es who are covered under the Convention. Furthermore, the paper explains: Some states and NGOs have suggested that the 1951 R efugee Convention should simply be amended and expressly e xtended to include people who have been displaced across borde rs as a result of long-term climate change or sudden natural disa sters. UNHCR considers that any initiative to modify this defini tion would risk a renegotiation of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which would not be justified by actual needs. Moreover, in the current political environment, it could result in a lowering of prote ction standards for refugees and even undermine the international r efugee protection regime altogether. (2009:9) However, the paper does not express an opposition t o new interpretations of the Refugee Convention that would allow it to cover env ironmentally displaced persons, not does it explicitly advocate the develo pment of such interpretations. Looking outside the UNHCR for the answer to how to address environmentally induced migratory flows is consiste nt with the approach advocated by political scientists Frank Biermann an d Ingrid Boas (2010). They advocate that another UN agency, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), could draft a document reg arding climate refugees explicitly, and that the management of this kind of refugee would be separate from political refugees and the UNHCR. It is unclear how this situation will play out in the coming years. The Convention could be expanded, either through renego tiation or innovative interpretations of the definition, to include any o f the myriad definitions for


35 “environmental refugee.” A version of this category could be created under the mandate of a different agency in the UN, or environ mentally displaced persons could simply be aided under a range of existing cha nnels. Perhaps some totally different approach be used towards them. Moreover, it is not clear if any approach will be sufficient to mitigate the impacts of wides pread environmental degradation on human populations. These tensions and inconsistencies continue to exi st in refugee resettlement, and they highlight that “refugeeness” is not an essential, inherent attribute of a certain kind of person. Rather, it i s a constructed identity that is directly related to our global system and to how ev ents that occur within that system are conceptualized. In the next chapter, I w ill discuss the development of refugee resettlement infrastructure and trends in t he United States, give an overview of available assistance programs, and exam ine and how some of these general tensions have played out in the US specific ally.


36 Chapter Two: US Refugee Programs Background of US program The development of the formal refugee resettlement program in the United States began in 1948, following the events of World War II. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948 allowed the resettlement of mor e than 400,000 people by 1951 (Haines 1996). Prior to this formal legislatio n, private voluntary agencies had coordinated humanitarian assistance for refugee s abroad and resettlement efforts in the United States. Following the ratific ation of legislation regarding refugees, these agencies have continued to play a c entral role in refugee aid, advocacy, and resettlement. The United States declined to sign the United Natio ns Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1951 (Churgin 1996); however, a few years after the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, the Refuge e Relief Act of 1953 permitted the admission of displaced persons from E urope as well as those fleeing Communist nations. This focus on individuals escapi ng Communism dominated the refugee system until the end of the Cold War. I nitially, admitted refugees were included in immigration quotas, although they were handled and processed separately. Furthermore, these refugees were provid ed only limited public financial support—for entry, processing, and initia l transportation—all other services were provided by private agencies. In 1957 a new act expanded the Refugee Relief Act to include “refugee-escapees,” p ersons fleeing Communist nations or countries in the Middle East, and to cou nt refugees separately from other immigrants. In 1968, the United States Senate ratified the accession to the


37 1967 United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and with the Refugee Act of 1980, discussed below, made the poli cy of nonrefoulement in US legislation consistent with that in the UN Protocol (Churgin 1996). The first refugee program in the United States orie nted towards a specific nationality was the Cuban Refugee Program. Upon Fid el Castro’s coming to power in 1959, many Cuban opponents of the regime b egan fleeing to the United States, specifically to Miami. A main distinction b etween this group and previous refugees was that these refugees came to the US wit hout being processed or having made arrangements with a volunteer agency. M any of the first to arrive were financially well-off, but as people continued to leave the country Cuba imposed increasingly strict restrictions on what th ose departing could bring with them—ultimately only minimal clothing and at most f ive pesos. Initial support for these refugees came from the President’s Contingenc y Fund and then later from appropriations granted through the Migration and Re fugee Assistance Act of 1962. This act went against the existing trend of m inimal government financial and logistical support for refugees. Furthermore, a s existing legislation did not provide an expedited legal means of entry for these refugees, the Attorney General used that position’s parole authority to “p arole” them, allowing them the legal right to stay in the United States. This prog ram continued, with varying numbers of Cubans coming to the United States each year, until 1975. The next major phases of the refugee program in the United States were the Indochinese and Soviet Programs. In 1975, follo wing the collapse of several US-supported governments in French Indochina, thous ands of refugees, mostly


38 Vietnamese, were processed and admitted into the Un ited States. During this year, Congress passed the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975, which initially only included Vietnamese refugees b ut eventually Laotian and Cambodian as well. The Indochinese Refugee Assistan ce Program resembled the Cuban program, using federal funds to coordinate th e resettlement of over 400,000 refugees, but resettlement was more often d one in collaboration with voluntary agencies, and refugees were settled throu ghout the country instead of focused in one city. Furthermore, the federal gover nment set up some new services; it began a refugee information hotline in the languages of these refugees, distributed a newspaper for refugees in several lan guages, and helped coordinate the establishment of self-help organizations for th ese refugees. Initially, processing centers were in the United States, which meant that those fleeing first had to enter the US before they could be protected and assisted. However, as larger numbers fled each year, especially by boat—a dangerous journey across the South China Sea, during which many died—the US esta blished processing centers in Vietnam and travel assistance to the US, enablin g Indochinese refugees to come to the United States more safely. During this same time period, more and more Soviet refugees were coming to the United States. Initially they were re settled through private funding, but as numbers got larger the United States created the FY 1979 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, which covered the “r esettlement in the United States of Soviet and other refugees not currently c overed by existing federal refugees programs” (FY 1979 Foreign Operations Appr opriations Act, quoted in


39 Haines 1996:12). Although focused on Soviet refugee s, this act allowed federal funding for refugees regardless of nation of origin. The program created through this act is called the Voluntary Agency Matching Gr ant Program, wherein government funds, given on a per capita basis, are to be matched by voluntary agencies. This program continues today and will be covered more fully later. These programs form the gradual creation of a refug ee resettlement system. Initially, admission to the United States w as limited—processed separately than general immigration—and resettlemen t was performed through private agencies with private funding. Next, there was federal funding for one group, then another, and finally federal funding, a lbeit limited, for refugees regardless of national origin—so long as they have been admitted to the country. This gradual development set the stage for the Refu gee Act of 1980. This act officially introduced the definition of a refugee l aid out in the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and i ts 1967 Protocol into US law, advocated humanitarian aid to refugees in asylum ar eas (e.g. outside of the United States in almost all cases), and permitted “admissi on to this country of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States, and transitional assistance to refugees in the United States” (Refugee Act of 1980 quoted in Haines 1996:13). The Refugee Act of 1980 established “refugee” as a legal status for permanent lawful residence to minimize the use of the parole authority by the Attorney General, which had been used previously to bring la rge refugee groups into the country.


40 The objective of the Refugee Act of 1980 was to cre ate a systematic approach for addressing and funding refugee resettl ement. The act declares that the decision of the number of refugees to be permit ted each year is made by the President and it establishes the Office of Refugee Resettlement within the Department of Health and Human Services. It also de scribes federal funds that will be dispensed toward refugee resettlement throu gh state governments and through a variety of programs and grants, such as U naccompanied Refugee Minors, Cash and Medical Assistance, Targeted Assis tance, Preventative Health, various social services. Federal funds can also be used for resettlement services through reimbursements for state governments if ref ugees enroll in state-funded programs. The act also permitted the continuation o f the Voluntary Agency Matching Grant Program. Initially, programs such as Cash Assistance and Medical Assistance were to be available to refugees for up to 36 months after entry to the US, but in an effort to promote immedi ate employment and selfsufficiency they were gradually cut down, with a fi nal reduction in 1991 to only eight months of assistance. Additionally, funds wer e set aside for refugee resettlement so that state and local governments wo uld not be forced to bear the burden of incoming refugees; however, by 1990 all o f the funding intended to reimburse states if eligible refugees enrolled in s tate welfare programs had been discontinued. Although the Refugee Act of 1980 declared that it i s “the policy of the United States to encourage all nations to provide a ssistance and resettlement opportunities to refugees to the fullest extent pos sible” and created a system that


41 allowed, in theory, the admission of refugees of an y origin, this is not to say that anyone or any group will be admitted. What exactly constitutes “special humanitarian concern” is not specified in the Act. Historically, refugee admission in the United States has been closely tied to forei gn policy and national interest. Beginning in the 1960s, large populations of displa ced persons began to emerge in the Third World; in the early 1980s, Third World refugees accounted for between 80-90 percent of the world’s refugees, with large populations in Asia and Africa (Hakovirta 1993). However, as mentioned, the initial populations of refugees accepted to the United States were almost exclusively from Communistdominated countries or countries caught in the midd le of Cold War conflicts. While refugees from these countries were often welc omed and provided with federal assistance, those fleeing conflicts an d persecution in other countries, such as in Central America, were received much less consistently. Asylumseekers from Nicaragua during the 1980s were receiv ed at fairly high rates, while those fleeing from El Salvador and Haiti were often denied asylum on the grounds that they were “economic refugees” or fleeing gener alized violence and conflict, not persecution as defined under the legal refugee definition (Gallagher 1989; Keely 2001). Many asylum-seekers were denied asylum on the grounds that they could have sought asylum in countries through which they passed en route to the United States but had failed to do so; or because t hey had already been granted asylum in a first country and hence did not need as ylum in a second country; or, in order to avoid the need to address asylum claims asylum-seekers were intercepted en route to the United States and eithe r returned home or detained


42 without being processed at all. Sociologist Charles Keely (2001) argues that the United States and other industrialized nations had long delayed the development of a legal means to process asylum claims or grant asylum. Pirie’s (1986) thorough analysis of asylum law and admittance proc esses attests to the weakness of this area of the refugee program. Indeed, the va st burden of the protection and accommodation of asylees awaiting repatriation has fallen on Third World nations neighboring those where conflicts have produced ref ugees (Gallagher 1989; UNHCR 2010b). In the United States, hundreds of thousands of refu gees from certain countries—those of “special humanitarian concern” t o the United States—have been admitted and financially supported, while thos e fleeing persecution from other countries have been routinely denied protecti on; these inconsistencies in the history of refugee and asylee admission are worthy of investigation. Keely has even suggested that during the Cold War there were two different refugee systems with two different sets of objectives (2001). In th is conception, one system, the one promoted by the UNHCR, sought repatriation as i ts ultimate goal and handled primarily refugees from Third World nations, with t hese refugees staying in neighboring nations until they were able to return home. The second regime, the “Northern Regime,” was created “with the intent of frustrating the consolidation of communist revolutions and hopefully destabilizin g nascent communist governments” (2001:307). This system was run largel y without the UNHCR and sought resettlement, not repatriation, as its ultim ate goal, with the intent of destabilizing the Soviet Union, Communist nations i n Eastern Europe, and


43 selected Third World countries involved in proxy wa rs. Keely claims that with the end of the Cold War in 1991, the United States and other Western nations have struggled to reevaluate their roles in the global r efugee system. Similarly, another case highlights issues within th e United States regarding how it is determined to whom the status a nd privileges of being a legal refugee will be conferred. As mentioned in the prev ious chapter, the review process for refugees to be permanently resettled in a third country and that of asylum-seekers applying for asylum within the Unite d States differs judicially. While the intricacies of US immigration law is outs ide the purview of this thesis, and while the attacks of 9/11 did bring more string ent review and restrictions to overseas processing of refugees (although it undoub tedly also brought more stringent review and restrictions to immigration ca ses within the United States as well), under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the Refugee Act of 1980 refugees to be resettled and asylum-seekers with va lid claims to persecution ought to receive equal protection. However, the case of H aitians seeking asylum in the United States makes this legal claim seem dubious a nd clearly highlights a range of potential pitfalls of the refugee system in the US and globally. Haitian Asylum-Seekers and the United States The case of Haitian asylum-seekers, especially in contrast to that of Cuban asylum-seekers, is notorious in refugee studies in the US (Pirie 1986, Gallagher 1989, Churgin 1996, Preeg 1996, Florida Immigrant A dvocacy Coalition 2004, Farmer 2005). Spanning three decades, their case wo uld (and has) easily take up a


44 whole volume itself; however, for my purposes a bri ef overview will suffice. At the time of the Refugee Act of 1980, Haiti was rule d by the US-supported dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier, also known as “Baby-Doc.” Alt hough the political persecution of Haitians by Baby Doc and his tontons macoutes were egregious (Farmer 2006), the US government argued that Haitia n refugees seeking asylum in the United States were “economic,” not political refugees. In the late 1970s, the US government decided to pursue “an automatic d etention program followed by rapid hearings and a return to Haiti” in respons e to the fleeing Haitians (Churgin 1996:315). In 1981—the year the Refugee Ac t of 1980 and its UNapproved nonrefoulement policy went into effect—Ronald Reagan and Baby Doc made an agreement that Haitians caught at sea tryin g to leave Haiti to seek protection in the United States would be interdicte d and returned to Haiti (Farmer 2005), a loophole in the refoulement policy allowed by international waters and asylum-seekers inability to reach US soil (Barnes 2 004). Medical anthropologist Paul Farmer describes the climate Haitian asylum-se ekers would face if they were to sneak past the US Coast Guard: “During the first ten years of the accord, approximately twenty-three thousand Haitians applie d for political asylum in the United States. Eight applications were approved” (2 005:36). According to immigration law specialist Michael J. Churgin, “Int erviews and determinations were done in less than 30 minutes. Deportation hear ings with applications for withholding of deportation were heard at the rate o f eighteen per judge per day. Attorneys were unable to adequately represent clien ts” (1996:315). In addition to an unsympathetic political climate, legal expert So phie Pirie argues that weak


45 asylum law regarding the definition of persecution allowed immigration judges and Immigration and Naturalization Service official s to process the Haitian applicants prejudicially. Similarly, after the 1991 military coup that ouste d Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the first democratically-elected president of Haiti many Haitian opponents of the coup faced military opposition and were either disp laced within Haiti or forced to flee the nation. The US Coast Guard continued to in terdict Haitian “boat people,” 34,000 in the first eight months after the coup, bu t due to their large numbers were unable to process them aboard ships and thus b rought them to Guantanamo Bay for processing. Seven months after the coup, th e military base held 13,000 Haitian citizens still awaiting processing (Farmer 2005:56; Preeg 1996:60). On May 26, 1992 President George H. W. Bush issued Exe cutive Order 12807, or the “Kennebunkport Order,” which required that all inte rdicted Haitians be returned to Haiti without processing—a direct violation of t he nonrefoulement mandate of the 1967 UN Protocol Relating to the Status of Refu gees (Preeg 1996:60). The US government instead encouraged that Haitians wishing to apply for asylum in the US at internal processing centers within Haiti, a f ar less desirable option because many Haitians felt that physically going to the pro cessing center would expose them as opponents of the coup, which could have har mful consequences. In order to deny asylum to Haitian refugees, the U S government used some of the same tactics that it had in the 1980s a s well as some new ones. Prior to President Bush’s Executive Order, Haitians with asylum claims intercepted at sea were to have their claims processed aboard Coas t Guard ships. As in the


46 1980s, these interviews were kept brief; however, a fter the 1991 coup, interviews on average took seven and a half minutes, including time for translation (Benoit and Kornhauser 1992:1456). Furthermore, Coast Guard s were unfamiliar with Haitian politics and kept few records of asylum cla ims processing (1992:1456). Also, as in the 1980s, the US argued that it had in tercepted the Haitian boat people in international waters and thus was not obl iged to acknowledge their asylum claims and was justified in repatriating the m. It also continued to argue that fleeing Haitians were “economic” and not polit ical refugees—despite the fact that 15,000 Haitians had been killed during the fir st month after the coup alone (Farmer 2005:55). But the US now argued, additional ly, that intercepted Haitians who had been taken to Guantanamo were not under the jurisdiction of the 1967 Protocol because the US constitution and other sour ces of US law as well as international law do not apply to Guantanamo—even t hough the US had exclusive control of Guantanamo Bay (2005:57). Duri ng the period following the coup, a number of groups challenged the action of t he United States government; the case eventually reached the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court ruled on the side of the US government (2005:55). Interdiction of Haitian asylum-seekers has continu ed into the 2000s (FIAC 2005). Coverage of Haitian detainees seeking asylum has described their treatment during detention. The Florida Immigrant A dvocacy Center (FIAC) describes how Haitian detained in the mid-2000s wer e held indefinitely and handcuffed, separated from their families and watch ing detainees of other nationalities who came after them be processed befo re them; that they were held


47 in cramped rooms with strangers; that they were den ied access to the outside and exercise and hygiene products; that they were denie d translation and legal council but expected to complete complex asylum application s; that their entire court hearings were conducted in about thirty minutes; an d that they were treated worse by guards than other detainees (FIAC 2004). The det ention of Haitian asylumseekers was justified by security reasons and denia l of asylum and other legal protection were denied due the government’s fear of a “mass exodus” of Haitians to the United States, despite indications that some of the forms of protection denied would not have appreciably affected Haitian migration to the United States (FIAC 2005). In response to pressure from humanitar ian organizations, the US government declined to provide reports regarding th e treatment of Haitian asylum-seekers in detention. Interestingly, following the earthquake of January 2010 in Haiti, the government made a somewhat unprecedented move by al lowing Haitians living in the United States to apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). While TPS has been granted to other nationalities, such as people from El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras, following hurricanes and earthquakes, it has not previously been granted to Haitians on other occasions after hurric anes have caused serious destruction there (FIAC 2005). While TPS is only av ailable to persons of a given nationality if they were already in the US at the t ime of the event—which is almost never the case for refugees— and is only ava ilable on a year by year basis as long as it is being offered, it is interesting a nd advantageous for a few reasons. First, TPS may be extended due to “ongoing armed co nflict (such as civil war), an


48 environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurri cane), [or] other extraordinary and temporary conditions” (USCIS 2011); thus, unlik e other avenues for protection, TPS may be used to relieve danger due t o political conditions as well as due to environmental conditions. Second, while TPS does not directly lead to permanent residence or citizenship, under TPS “elig ible individuals are not removable from the United States [and] cannot be de tained by DHS” (USCIS 2011). Thus, individuals who receive TPS and who wi sh to apply for asylum or other legal immigration can do so without threat of detention or deportation, although asylum applicants are still constrained by a one-year window of habitation in the United States. So, while TPS does not offer a permanent solution itself and is not entirely compatible with seeking asylum, it offers a distinct avenue for protection to those who may not be able to get access to the protection that should be available through asylum. It also of fers an example of how relief from political duress and relief from environmental hazard could be brought together. Foreign policy, especially concerning Communist-dom inated nations, has historically played a large role in admission of re fugees into the United States; and is not precluded in US refugee legislation. Whi le the extent and manner of the interplay of these two objectives since the end of the Cold War does not seem entirely clear, foreign policy will undoubtedly con tinue to influence refugee admission to some extent. For example, the attacks of September 11th brought a virtual cessation of refugee admission and a much m ore stringent security check once admission resumed (U.S. Committee for Refugees 2003). It is important that


49 this relationship between the refugee resettlement program and foreign policy continue to be examined; those caught in the crossf ire between nations should not be denied protection and further victimized. Current United States Refugee Resettlement Programm ing The current U.S. definition for a refugee, which c an be found in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) Section 101 ( a)(42)(A), is similar to that of the United Nations Convention Relating to the St atus of Refugees: Any person who is outside any country of such perso n’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually reside d, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that count ry because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution o n account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a partic ular social group, or political opinion. (IRC 2010:1-1) Each year, the number of refugees who may be admitt ed into the U.S. is determined by the President of the United States in consultation with Congress and Administration agencies, based largely on curre nt international crises. This number is then broken down by region: Africa, East Asia, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Near East/So uth Asia, and an Unallocated Reserve group. It is important to note that while r esettled refugees—those who come from a country of first asylum and whose appli cations are processed by the United States overseas—and asylees—those who first come to the United States and then have their applications as refugees proces sed—legally enjoy the same protection status if approved, the review process d iffers significantly. As Michael J. Churgin notes, “there is no judicial review of t he overseas determination while


50 there currently is an elaborate process of administ rative and judicial review of the asylum determination” (1996: 310). As will be explo red later, this processual difference seems to have significant effects on who is granted protected status in the United States. There are three ways a refugee can be recommended for the US Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) screening process: throu gh the UNHCR, by a non-governmental organization (NGO), or by a US emb assy (Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration Refugee Program 2010). This screening process is rigorous and includes several steps. On average it takes eight to ten months, but it can last for several years. The refu gee individual or family must prepare an application for resettlement and be regi stered in the U.S. as a refugee under the U.S. definition. Being defined as a refug ee by the UN does not guarantee this designation by the United States. Re fugee Support Centers (RSCs) [formerly Overseas Processing Entities (OPEs)], eit her through non-governmental organizations, international organizations, or US e mbassies, help applicants prepare their cases for review by the Department of Homeland Security. Once an application has been filed, applicants are intervie wed by a representative from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S.CIS) [formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS)] who visits the a sylum country. Refugees who apply to the U.S. for resettlement must undergo rig orous security checks; persons convicted of non-political crimes, those who have c ommitted war crimes, violated human rights, provided “material support” for such crimes, or those who are current drug users cannot be resettled in the Unite d States as refugees. Applicants


51 will also be submitted to a name check in databases of known terrorists and people who have been denied visas in the past. If a pplicants are applying to be reunited with family members who have already been resettled in the U.S., an Affidavit of Relationship (AOR) must be filed by th eir relatives. Once applicants have been interviewed and approved for admission to the U.S, their biodata will be sent to the Refugee Proc essing Center (RPC), who will assign their cases to a voluntary agency (VOLAG). T he VOLAG will then give “assurance” that it will provide Reception and Plac ement (R&P) services to these refugees. Refugees then undergo a medical screening4 and also generally receive some orientation to American culture, such as throu gh Welcome to the United States: A Guidebook for Refugees (Center for Applied Linguistics Cultural Orientation Resource Center 2004). Finally, travel plans are made for the refugees by the International Organization for Migration (IO M), and they travel to the United States to be received by their assigned VOLA G. There are ten voluntary agencies (VOLAGs) in the U nited States that hold contracts with the Department of State to provide r efugee resettlement services: Church World Service (CWS), Episcopal Migration Min istries (EMM), Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc. (ECDC), Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), United State Committee for Refugees and Imm igrants (USCRI), International Rescue Committee (IRC), Iowa Departme nt of Human Services, 4 Applicants with untreated Class A medical conditio ns, such as HIV, tuberculosis, or gonorrhea, are prohibited from entering the United States (Cen ter for Disease Control and Prevention, Immigrant and Refugee Health 2010). However, childr en with Class A conditions may be granted a waiver allowing their admission. The admission of others with Class A conditions will be delayed until they are treated; upon admission to t he United States they must receive treatment within seven days of arrival.


52 Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), U nited States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), and World Relief Refugee Services (WRRS). VOLAGs receive most of their funding from the feder al government, although this funding is often channeled through st ate governments. Refugees also receive support from state and local governmen ts, which may provide special funding and programs, or through which the refugee may be eligible for social assistance outside of the standard refugee programs Furthermore, because the refugee resettlement program in the United States i s a public-private partnership, funding comes through the voluntary resettlement ag encies as well as through other organizations that participate in the process The first program provided for refugees upon arriva l is called Resettlement and Placement (R&P), provided through a contractual agreement between the Department of State and voluntary agenc ies. The amount of assistance received depends on the number of member s in a family. The R&P program lasts for the first 30-90 days and provides “core services”: initial housing and supplies, airport pick-up, cash and medical ass istance, employment services, English language services, and other services when available. During this time, VOLAGs are required to assist refugees in applying for cash assistance, food stamps, medical assistance, Social Security cards, and employment authorization. Once refugees have completed the R&P program, they can participate in a number of other programs, depending on eligibility. Another assistance program available to refugees be ing resettled is the federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TAN F) program. TANF


53 eligibility requires that refugee families have a c hild under the age of 18, either a single parent or, if there are two parents, one mus t be unemployed or incapacitated, with income within certain limits, a nd an employable adult must participate in employment services. Many VOLAGs participate in the Voluntary Agency Mat ching Grant Program. The objective of the Matching Grant (MG) p rogram is to provide assistance to employable adults who are willing to accept any job available to them and who are capable of doing any job (ORR 2010 ). Assistance lasts for four to six months and refugees enrolled in this program are expected to become employed quickly and to become self-sufficient as q uickly as possible, without receiving assistance from other programs. The progr am provides food, housing, cash allowances, and transportation. Funding for th is program is provided by both the federal government and voluntary agencies, with the public funding “matched” through cash and contributions of goods a nd services. If refugees are not eligible for other programs, th ey can participate in the Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) program. This program provides cash assistance for eight months as long as they apply within eight months after arrival and are not receiving assistance through other programs. Ad ditionally, refugees can receive financial assistance and other services thr ough several other public programs, including Supplemental Security Income (S SI), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—formerly the Foo d Stamp Program), the Refugee Medical Assistance (RMA) program, Medicaid, and state health


54 programs. Refugees with severe medical problems, kn own as Class A Physical Conditions, must be referred to local health agenci es upon arrival. Once a refugee case has been accepted into the Unit ed States for resettlement, his or her biodata is sent to the Ref ugee Processing Center (RPC). The RPC collects this data, and every Wednesday the new list of refugees is sent to the group of VOLAGs to be divided up. First, the anchor cases, or cases where the refugee is being received by a family member wh o has already been resettled, are matched up with their relatives. Then the rest of the cases are divided up. Each agency has a contract with the State Department to take a certain percentage of the new cases that come in each week. Once the cases have been split up among the VOLAGs they are assigned to each agency’s different offices across the count ry. Some offices only take anchor cases; these cases are again assigned first. Free cases, where the refugees have no family support in the U.S., are assigned ba sed on their specific needs— such as language and any necessary government fundi ng—to the offices and places that will be most able to accommodate them. In order to receive funding, agencies must follow d etailed contracts of operation. Contributions, both financial and in goo ds and services, and grants are also substantial sources of funding. Although these agencies all provide basic R&P services and other services to refugees, they d iffer in organizational structure, religious affiliation, and what resource s they use to provide R&P services. Some VOLAGs operate their resettlement se rvices as part of a larger organization that does work in a range of humanitar ian areas, whereas some focus


55 exclusively on refugee resettlement and emergency a ssistance in international crises. The IRC, for example, operates as an intern ational organization solely in the areas of refugee resettlement and international emergency relief and operates in the United States exclusively as a refugee reset tlement agency. Some of the VOLAGs—for example, Episcopal Migratio n Ministries and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society—are religiously affili ated, while some—such as the International Rescue Committee and the United S tate Committee for Refugees and Immigrants—are non-affiliated. However, this re ligious affiliation is not to affect the services provided by a VOLAG; the U.S. S tate Department/Resettlement Agency contract includes a clause specifying: Direct Federal grants, sub-award funds, or contract s under this ACF program shall not be used to support inherently religious activities such as religious instruction, worship, or proselytization. Therefore, organizations must take steps to separat e, in time or location, their inherently religious activities fro m the services funded under this program. (ORR 2008 Chapter VI Sec tion 2) Although religion or doctrine specifically is not t o influence the resettlement process, the location of the VOLAG in a network of religious institutions can and does affect what resources a VOLAG draws upon. VOLA Gs vary widely in how they provide their services. Religiously-affiliated VOLAGs often look to affiliated places of worship to provide services. VOLAGs also seek grant funding in order to develop programs services, such as ESL classes o r youth programming, in their own offices, or they may refer their clients out to other agencies that provide services. The manner by which a VOLAG provides its services does not just vary from VOLAG to VOLAG but also between different offi ces in the same national


56 agency, depending on what agencies, funding, and ot her resources are available in the area. Building on this general information about the gov ernment programs available to refugees and the voluntary agencies th at help implement them, in the next chapter I will discuss my ethnographic fieldwo rk at the International Rescue Committee Atlanta office. I will also provide some analysis of my observations and interviews, specifically by contrasting the pre scribed resettlement process to the processes that actually take place and describi ng some of the strategies that resettlement workers employ that can facilitate and /or hinder resettlement.


57 Chapter 3: Working in Refugee Resettlement At the Office Clarkston, Georgia is a city of approximately 7,800 people on the eastern edge of Atlanta, a city of approximately 486,000 pe ople (Atlanta Census Fact Sheet 2010; Clarkston Census Fact Sheet 2010). As w ith much of metro Atlanta, Clarkston is not noticeably distinct from the city itself or the suburbs around it; the development around Atlanta blends into one big band of sprawl. However, Clarkston does have its own character. Founded in 1 882 and strongly tied to the railroad (City of Clarkston: History 2010), the lay out and architecture of Clarkston are dissimilar from the urban buildings o f Atlanta and more recent suburban, big-box development. Moreover, the demogr aphics of the city are quite different; while the population of Atlanta is appro ximately 8.3 percent foreignborn, the population of Clarkston is around 33.7 pe rcent foreign-born, which is not surprising given the large number of ethnically -diverse stores and restaurants spread throughout the small community (Atlanta Cens us Fact Sheet 2010; Clarkston Census Fact Sheet 2010). In the 1980s and early 1990s, refugee resettlement agencies began to focus on Clarkston as a new center for refugee resettleme nt because of its economy and access to public transportation; the city and surro unding area now have a tight network of resettlement agencies, state offices, an d supporting coalitions and nonprofit organizations. Photographer Bryan Meltz, who did a photo-documentary project entitled “Refugee Resettlement in Clarkston Georgia” (2004-2010) says the city has become “the Ellis Island of the South. ” Successful books such as The


58 Lost Boys of Sudan: An American Story of the Refuge e Experience by Mark Bixler (2005) and Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John (2009) focus on refugees in Clarkston. For over thirty years, the IRC Atlanta office occup ied nearly a whole building of the Kensington Office Park, 5 a complex of 1970s-style two-story brown office buildings surrounded by trees. The com plex is located on a long, busy, sprawling road called Memorial Drive, which s tretches from downtown Atlanta to Stone Mountain Park, about five miles ea st of Clarkston. The length of Memorial Drive where the IRC office is located is s ix lanes wide, with a 45 mileper-hour speed limit and very few sidewalks. At the intersection to the east of the office is Kensington Station, the second to last st ation on the east line of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA ). MARTA consists of a rail system with two lines, one north-south and one east-west, and a network of buses; MARTA is notoriously underfunded and is the central means of transportation for the vast majority of the refugee s whom the IRC resettles. Each weekday morning—except Friday, when IRC employ ees meet with clients by appointment only—a constant parade of re fugees marches up the trashstrewn, eroding red clay banks of the road from the Kensington Station to the Kensington Office Park. Aside from their consistent path and their numbers, the refugees stand out in other ways; head coverings, b right clothing patterns, and random donated clothing quickly call attention to t he fact that they are probably not from the United States. 5 In December 2010, the office moved to a new locati on, which will be discussed later.


59 From the street, the refugee clients walk past two buildings to the back of the office park and climb the outdoor stairs to the main office. The small reception room on the second floor is often cramped so people hang out on the outdoor walkway upstairs, on the stairs, on the sid ewalk downstairs, at the nearby picnic table, and occasionally in the parking lot i tself. They sit, stand, and squat; talk, laugh, and smoke cigarettes. They are infants adults, and the elderly. They are from many countries and speak many different la nguages. In the reception room, people sit in the chairs aro und the edges and stand in the middle. Sometimes it is hard to get through. Sometimes it is very hot. Sometimes the room smells of body odor. Sometimes p eople are angry and the feeling is very tense. Sometimes it is cool and cal m and people look relaxed. The room is painted yellow, with IRC posters and notes and flyers reminding clients about certain procedures or advertising events. At the sliding glass window, clients sign in on their assigned case managers’ cl ipboards and sometimes talk with Pat, the receptionist, and other IRC staff. Af ter signing in the clients may be called into the office immediately, may wait for lo ng periods of time, or may have their case manager, employment coordinator, or high er-ups—if necessary—come to the window and explain or re-explain to them why they can’t be seen or what steps they need to complete in a process before the IRC can play its role. Inside the office there are cubicles, individual of fices, two filing rooms, a break room, a small conference room, and a classroo m. Across the hall there is a teaching area with several classrooms and a compute r lab. Downstairs is the IRC store, where IRC clients can use vouchers to get cl othing, linens, and small


60 appliances. Depending on the time of day, the day o f the week, and the time of year, the office can be either calm and fairly empt y or a noisy, energetic, and crowded space, with staff and refugees dashing arou nd, or just sitting. Additionally, there are always interns and voluntee rs working in the office. Although their numbers fluctuate throughout the yea r, when they peak in the summer, the number of people in the office increase s noticeably. In addition to helping with a wide range of activities, it is impo rtant to note that hours worked by interns and volunteers are “matched” monetarily by the government. A number of factors influence office dynamics. Most significantly are the employment positions and structure, the layout of t he office, and interpersonal dynamics. As mentioned, the office is broken up int o a few areas: resettlement, logistics, education, immigration, and administrati on, with a few other more or less independent positions. Employees interact most with those in their department, with resettlement and logistics often o verlapping into one department. However, there were few formal or physi cal divisions within the office, and outside of individual offices staff and departments generally shared the same space. While there were no major changes to the staff stru cture during my time, through interviews employees revealed that much had in fact changed over the past decade—no one I interviewed had been at the IR C longer than that— sometimes strategically and sometimes due to circum stances outside anyone’s control. Angela, the manager of finance and adminis tration, described how after September 11, 2001, refugee admittance rates were l owered drastically, and with


61 that, funding. The office prior to the attacks had more than fifty employees— about its current number—but after the attacks, ove r the next three years, the staff dropped to thirty employees. Only in the past few y ears has it returned to near pre-9/11 numbers. Long term employees described changes they had see n since they first came to the IRC. According to Pat, the receptionist when she first arrived in 2004 there were two departments in resettlement—case man agers and social services. Furthermore, her position did not exist before she was hired, and reception was handled by interns and volunteers. At this point, w ith the load of refugees the IRC serves and the size of the staff, it seems inconcei vable that there would not be a designated position to coordinate meetings and keep track of people’s locations. Pat went into more detail about structural changes regarding IRC staff: There’s been a lot of restructuring of positions…[f or] the better. Pretty much. Yeah. [There’s] a little more medium l evel. Because all we had was like, staff, with a department head, and then, basically, [the executive director]. Now we have mo re levels…in there, which makes it a little better to take care of the things more gradually so you can eliminate some of the problems at low level management instead of having a… jump [in communicat ion]. You know from here, you know from way down to way up. S o it works out a little better…It’s evolving almost constantly … So there’s a lot more people and a lot more things being done th at—the regular staff’s expanded, but [there are more] programs tha t we’re getting into. Similarly, several employees remarked about how sig nificantly Rob’s position as health specialist—one go-to person to h andle all appointments, Medicaid issues, and to maintain lists of and relat ionships with top service providers—had revolutionized all medical processes. This past year an analogous position was created, the education specialist, who handles all school registration,


62 placement exams, and other education-related tasks. Thus, instead of each case manager working to register the children in each of their cases, one employee is responsible for registering all of the children in the office. The restructuring of positions and duties is an intentional response to reoccurring challenges; it is intended to improve resettlement performance and cr eate different nexuses of information and interaction in the office. The physical layout of the office also greatly cont ributes to office dynamics, both among IRC employees and with refugee clients. The figure on the following page depicts the main office of the IRC, which is where the offices of resettlement, logistics, immigration, administratio n, and the main English classroom are located. The areas of the office that are not included in this map are the smaller classrooms and the computer lab, which are in a separate area across the outside walkway from the job developers in the main office, and the IRC store, which is downstairs. The space is used very compactly, as shown in the i mage, and the office often has a bustling feel. This effect is co mpounded by the use of cubicles which allows sound to carry into other areas and th e fact that employees are often moving around hurriedly. Furthermore, designated re fugee client activities, namely ESL classes, which take place in two session s every weekday morning, share space with the office area. Refugee clients i n the waiting room and in ESL classes also have to enter the office area to use t he restroom. The IRC has had some trouble regulating refugee clients’ access to employees’ offices, and it is mostly through these means that refugees come into the office. It is a difficult


63 Main Office of IRC Atlanta (Grayed-out areas are designated for use by refugee clients)


64 situation because refugees are understandably impat ient about seeing the resettlement workers, as the topics they need to di scuss are often pressing and very personal, but the overloaded employees have di fficulty completing their work when they cannot count on structured time with out interruptions. This challenge toward scheduling staff-client time will be addressed more later. On certain days, such as when Social Security and DFCS representatives come into the office on Tuesdays an d Thursdays, respectively, the bustling feel in the office becomes chaotic. On the se days often as many as twenty or thirty refugees are brought into the inner offic e area and left to wait in the hallways while the representatives meet with client s in the conference room. Additionally, on these days employees and interns a re often quickly walking—if not running—through the halls to bring case manager s and translators into the conference room as their clients are called. While the office is often full and busy, employees also have off-site tasks they must perform, such as home visits or airport p ick-ups. On some days, including Friday when refugee clients are not permi tted into the office except by appointment, and on most days in the afternoon, the office becomes empty and quiet as many employees use this time to perform of f-site tasks. However, throughout most days employees will leave the offic e, using any of the several outside doors, or move around the office. While the y are supposed to tell the receptionist or other employees where they are goin g, it is not uncommon that someone will leave to take care of something withou t telling anyone, or the person they have told will also go somewhere. Many resettlement tasks require


65 others’ assistance, whether for a signature, for tr anslation, or for guidance or information; sometimes not being able to find a cer tain essential employee delays the completion of work, and requires that the perso n looking for him or her hurriedly search the office until the individual is are located. This fairly constant frantic looking also adds to the chaotic feel of th e office. In addition to the staff structure and office layou t, office dynamics are certainly influenced by staff members’ personalitie s, interpersonal relations, and the personal philosophies employees bring to their work. The employees at the IRC generally take the work that they do very serio usly and devote themselves to it; a number of employees mentioned that they regul arly brought work home to do over the weekend. Most employees I asked said that refugee resettlement work was very demanding and high stress. This stress is a defining feature of refugee resettlement, and understanding the constant high p ressure is essential to understanding the resettlement process and office d ynamics. Regarding this stress, Frank, a job developer said: Oh my goodness…It’s—it’s really, really stressful. But at the same time, it’s very rewarding. Stressful in the sense t hat you have a lot of things to do for that client in a very short per iod of time. Stressful in the sense that you find the clients wi th a lot of other needs than you cannot meet. And because you have th at desire to help, and you find yourself helpless, the stress mu ltiplies. Alex, another job developer, said: Ok, absolutely. It’s very stressful. Because you ar e working with people that are very needy and dependent. Initially they—this is an exaggeration, but to some extent they’re helpless. So, it’s stressful to know that they are depending on you. And especia lly in my area in employment, it’s very stressful. And that’s what I think stresses out our clients more than anything, more than their food stamps, any of those problems they might have with food sta mps or a


66 problem they have in their home like a housing issu e, if they don’t have a job, they don’t have a real sense of stabili ty and they could… realistically, they could be evicted and end up on the streets. Despite this stress, and maybe partially because of it, there is a great deal of camaraderie among lower level staff, especially tho se who work primarily on-site. Employees repeatedly mentioned how positive the emp loyee interactions were and their enthusiasm at how well they worked togeth er. This is partially a result of individual employees’ perspectives and philosophies about the work that they do. Emily, the volunteer coordinator who is also in cha rge of a number of resettlement tasks, mentioned to me one day in her office that she doesn’t let the stress get to her by reminding herself that in most cases everything will turn out all right. She believes that, with the amount of re sources and people working on behalf of the refugee clients, it is very unlikely that anything very bad will happen. Many employees expressed how important humo r was in relieving stress. The value of humor to the IRC staff is very clear: employees are regularly laughing and joking with each other and occasionall y dressing up in funny outfits or playing pranks on each other. In Frank’s words, “Just cracking jokes in the office like I usually do. Just make up your mind to be happy, and that’s what I do most of the time in the office. I just say somethin g and…laugh. And I kind of laugh out the stress a little bit.” Rob, the health specialist, channels his stress into an arbitrary and exaggerated distaste for blue pens which he will throw out of his office if he finds one on his desk. Employees throughout the office also relieve stres s and build camaraderie through ritual group activities. During my two summ ers interning at the IRC,


67 more Fridays than not someone would send out an ema il announcing that there was cake in the office, either for someone’s birthd ay or just to enjoy, and a number of employees would gather in the break room to hang out, chat, and laugh. About once a month, some employees—the invit ation is open to all, but employees with family or other obligations are less likely to come—will get together for “Happy Hour” at a nearby bar or restau rant on a Friday. I had the pleasure of attending once; the environment was jov ial, laid-back, and fairly intimate. Thus, humor and group ritual activities, in additi on to hard work, create a close bond among the staff that many employees ackn owledged. Kristin, the logistics coordinator, said, “I was surprised to se e how well everyone works together at IRC, how much of a support group people are to each other. There’s a huge network there that if someone is, um—you know, if one person is really struggling, the team members will pick up. It’s lik e the best example of teamwork I’ve ever worked in. And it’s a really good environ ment, very positive.” Similarly, Alex, the job developer, explained, … I’m privileged to have very competent coworkers t hat will allow me to take a break, to take a vacation, and I know that things will get done and people will not die or starve. So we handle it—I think in our particular office very well by… by hel ping each other out a lot—there’s a lot of collaboration—and I thin k there’s a lot of moral and emotional support and… maybe another thin g that I do and that the whole office does is that we have a re ally good sense of humor and we take our jobs very seriously and we take our clients’ needs seriously but we have a very healthy sense of humor about all the goofy situations that occur and that helps build teamwork and it helps motivate us to continue doing our work. So… it builds morale.


68 While many of the staff members I interviewed spoke positively about the office environment, refugee resettlement is very ta xing work. From the time I started interning during my first summer at the IRC to when I left at the end of the second, I know of almost ten people who left their positions. Unfortunately, I was only able to talk to one of these people about thei r reasons for leaving. I think it would be worthwhile in future research, however, to explore how much feeling burnt out contributes to resettlement workers choos ing to leave their positions. I have spoken to some employees about feeling too ove rburdened and drained, yet I was surprised at how enthusiastic and committed the y seemed in general considering the amount of work they must do. In thi s regard, I think that it’s possible that the inherent restrictions of the syst em—having to delay certain tasks to allow external parties to do their part, not bei ng legally able to provide certain kinds of assistance after a certain point, only bei ng able to work a set number of hours, and having to set limits because of the size of the work load—may help keep some employees from becoming so invested in th e needs of their clients that they wear down and cannot continue in their positio ns. Although all refugees go through the same general p rocess when they arrive in the US, each individual or family brings unique experiences and approaches and faces particular challenges. Nonethe less, there are reoccurring instances and patterns that come up because of the nature of the situations in which refugees are put, because of their preparedne ss for those situations, and because of the manner in which resettlement program s facilitate or respond to these situations and the resources they have to dea l with them. To highlight how


69 much these occurrences can affect the resettlement process, I will use two hypothetical refugee case families, based on my exp erience working at the IRC and my interviews with IRC employees, to depict a “ better case” and a “worse case” scenario. I am using these scenarios as oppos ed to actual families’ stories because, as discussed in the introduction, I could not conduct fieldwork on the refugees themselves, but I believe these hypothetic al scenarios approximate refugees’ experiences sufficiently to illustrate th e major trends I wish to discuss. I am also using these hypothetical stories because du e to the brevity of my internship and inconsistency of my day-to-day respo nsibilities. While I did see many examples of the kinds of events that occur in these scenarios, I was not able to follow any actual families for the entire durati on of their resettlement. I will follow with a discussion of some of the major issue s that come up in these scenarios as well as other occurrences that affect the resettlement process. Better case scenario: A family of four—two parents and two children—are resettled from a relatively more developed country. The parents have some experience with paid work or volunteering and have some proficiency in English. The children have had some formal, if limited, scho oling. They are part of a large refugee group and many from their group have alread y been resettled; furthermore, the VOLAG that will facilitate their r esettlement has at least one staff member that speaks their language. When they arrive in the United States, they are greeted by IRC representatives and taken t o their apartment. The following day, they are brought to the IRC for thei r new-arrival orientation with their case manager, who speaks their language and a ll participants understand


70 what is said. During the orientation the case manag er and employment coordinator explain basic procedural, safety, and c ultural information, and a cursory discussion of their experiences and ambitio ns takes place. The 24-hour home visit, to ensure that their residence is prope rly equipped and that they are familiar with safety and how to operate appliances, takes place on their first day as well. Generally, the main documentation with which refuge es enter the United States is from their Overseas Processing Entity (OP E) resettlement review process—mostly medical forms—and their I-94 cards, which provides their alien numbers. The first documents they must apply for in the US are their Social Security cards, which they apply for on their first Tuesday and receive within a week. Once they have their Social Security cards, t hey apply for Employment Authorization (EAD) cards, food stamps, and Medicai d and start the process of registering their children for school. These applic ations are processed quickly, and soon the family is eligible for work, school, and a ssistance. Because the parents are in good health and willing to take any job the employment specialists can find, they are considere d highly employable and therefore eligible for the Matching Grant (MG) prog ram. Refugees in the MG program get substantial cash assistance and have re nt and utilities fully subsidized. They are ensured under this program for four months in most cases, but occasionally are eligible for six. Their employ ment coordinators quickly find available positions and help the clients apply. Bec ause the job market provides some flexibility and they have had “legitimate” emp loyment experience, they are


71 able to have some say in the kind of work they want to do. Until they find jobs, they are required to take English as a Second Langu age (ESL) classes, which they attend regularly, and through which they improve th eir English speaking skills and form relationships with other clients and the r esettlement staff. However, they soon find good work: their jobs pay above minimum w age and do not require a long commute, and they have daytime shifts. Because they find a job before their MG assistance period ends, they receive a monetary bonus. A number of factors aid their transition. There are resettlement employees that speak their language and the staff has familia rity with their cultural beliefs and practices. Moreover, their assigned case manage r and employment specialist are organized, eager, and accessible. They already have some family in the area and a large number of refugees from their social gr oup have already been resettled and created support networks. Some of these acquain tances have phones and facilitate communication between the new arrivals a nd resettlement workers, their own employers, school, doctors, and government bure aus. Their children, who have received schooling before and are young enough to catch up with their age group, have welcoming teachers who are supportive o f refugee students. Other parents are available to help watch the children an d assist them getting to or from school. The children are physically and mentally ab le and do not struggle in school. They are healthy and do not need more medic al attention than the average child. This family is able to keep their jobs, get by in s chool, and save some money. While they do not have a great deal of finan cial flexibility, they do


72 quickly become self-sufficient and have the ability to save enough money to open up new opportunities for themselves, such as improv ed transportation, new employment options, and higher education. None of t hese circumstances change the fact that the resettlement process is a major t ransition that is undoubtedly very demanding, but together, these advantages can make the different steps of the process a little less difficult and influence the f amily’s future prospects. Worse case scenario: A family of four—two parents a nd two children— are resettled from a less developed, more rural cou ntry. They arrive in the United States with no English proficiency, very limited cu ltural orientation, and, because their previous occupation was subsistence farming, no “legitimate” work experience and no formal schooling. Furthermore, th ey have no family in the United States, few refugees of their social group h ave been previously settled, and their resettlement agency does not have any employe es who speak their language or much experience resettling people from their cul tural group. Their new-arrival orientation requires a third party to translate, wh ich hinders communication between the family and their case manager and emplo yment specialist, but also limits their ability to relate and build rapport. D uring the 24-hour home visit, many appliances and features of the new apartment a re unfamiliar to the newly arrived clients, and many day-to-day practices and environments are completely new. Furthermore, their case manager and employment specialist are somewhat disorganized, overloaded, and burnt-out, and their enthusiasm and accessibility are limited.


73 Because third-party translators impose additional c osts and have restricted availability, simple interactions such as schedulin g meetings, reminders about things to do or documents to bring, and completing applications and other paperwork become extremely difficult and involve nu merous breakdowns in communication. Often the level of difficulty commun icating is such that workers complete these tasks, including getting signatures for official forms, without knowing if the family has any idea what is going on During the first few weeks, when applying for their essential documentation, th e family fails to produce the records necessary to complete the forms and thus th e application process is delayed. Additionally, the processing of their appl ications takes longer than usual, which sets back how soon they can begin looking for jobs and registering for school. The adults of the family are not in ideal health. W hile the father and mother are employable, the father has back problems and the mother has difficulty hearing and seeing; both of these condit ions, combined with their inexperience with English, lower their employabilit y. They are thus enrolled in the Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) program, which la sts eight months but provides substantially less financial assistance th an the MG program. There are few employment opportunities available to them, and it takes them a long time to find work. In the meantime, the parents are require d to take English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, but their attendance is low both hindering their improvement in English and threatening their eligib ility for public assistance. Also, when they do attend class, they do not practi ce speaking as much as other


74 students and therefore their comfort speaking and f amiliarity are further limited. Because of the communication barriers, their case m anager has difficulty understanding why the clients are not coming to cla ss and thus is unable to work towards resolving the problem. Moreover, their rapp ort is further limited and the case manager begins to suspect that the clients are not fully committed and cooperating. While the parents’ health is not ideal, the health problems of the children are far more substantial: one child has severe phys ical handicaps and the other mental handicaps and both need complicated medical attention. They both need to see specialists, with whom appointments can be diff icult to schedule, and their visits require interpretation and transportation. F requently, appointments are forgotten, are missed due to schedule conflicts, or require that the parent, child, translator, and sometimes a fourth party, wait for hours to be seen. Furthermore, their limited ableness means that they need special accommodations in school, added assistance getting to and from school, and ex tra supervision, placing additional responsibilities on their parents and li miting how much time is available for other necessary tasks. The parents are unable to find work for many months At one point, the mother is hired as a cleaner at a hotel, her first wage-paying job in her life, but is fired because her employer is unsatisfied with her performance. They continue to have difficulty finding work until, finally, the ei ght months of their RCA assistance period has passed. In order to pay their bills, the resettlement agency must pull together emergency funds. Finally, the fa ther is hired to work in a


75 chicken factory, a job that pays minimum wage, requ ires early and long hours and a long commute, and provides limited opportunities for advancement. Soon, their monthly income is finally high enough that they are no longer eligible for any public assistance, but low enough that they get by month to month with little time, energy, or extra money to discover and take advanta ge of new opportunities. Certainly, there are other factors that can have mi nor or drastic impacts on the resettlement process, but these two scenarios h ighlight a number of reoccurring events that can influence the relative ease of refugee resettlement. Other occurrences are less common, but can still re veal much about the structure of the system. Some refugees receive additional res ources, such as information and guidance, logistical assistance, or money, from individuals or groups. Others experience substantial setbacks or ordeals, such as losing essential documents, burglaries, fires, or attacks. Although significant ly less common, these incidents are also a product of the refugee system and repres ent more extreme examples of many of the everyday problems and opportunities pre sented by the refugee program, at least the version of the program that e xists at the IRC office in Clarkston. My Research My fieldwork highlights two operating systems at wo rk in refugee resettlement: bureaucracy and strategy. By bureaucr acy, I mean the structures of the system put in place by more powerful but remove d players—namely different offices of the US government—that delineate the pro cess and form of the refugee


76 resettlement system. These bureaucratic structures provide resources that permit the functioning of the system but also set mandator y prescriptions for what must be accomplished and how it is to be accomplished. B y strategy, I mean the choices made and courses of actions taken by the ac tors working within the system; namely, refugees, resettlement workers, VOL AGs, other offices who play a direct role in the resettlement process and their employees, other local people and institutions, and volunteers and organizations who participate in the process. These strategies can either facilitate the resettle ment process or complicate it. Moreover, strategies can be implemented by individu als, informal groups of individuals, established organizations, or networks of organizations. My fieldwork focuses on the employees of a refugee res ettlement agency, so my analysis focuses on bureaucratic structures they en countered and strategies employed by both the employees and the agency offic e as a whole in response to and in anticipation of those structures. In terms of bureaucracy, there are essentially thr ee stages of the resettlement process that must be achieved: the “cr eation” of an identity as recognized within the US and by the US government, the transition period to adjust to life in the US, and the process of becomi ng self-sufficient. By “creation” of an identity, I mean the processing and entering of a person’s information into appropriate systems of identification and records a nd the production of documents certifying that these tasks have been completed. Th ese documents are absolutely mandatory in the resettlement process; almost every step produces its own records that are necessary to move on to the next. The tra nsition process, which often


77 includes everything from speaking English to learni ng how to pay bills to learning how a thermostat works, can be very involved and lo ng. Identity creation almost always occurs before self-sufficiency is attained, but the transitioning process overlaps both. Self-sufficiency is the ultimate goal of the reset tlement process. In bureaucratic terms, self-sufficiency means that a r efugee or a refugee family is receiving independent income to the point of no lon ger qualifying for government assistance. How quickly refugees become self-suffic ient is used as a measure of those refugees’ success in adapting and transitioni ng, and also of the success of VOLAGs in guiding and assisting refugees through th e resettlement process. Refugees come to the United States from all over t he world, from a wide spectrum of nationalities and cultural traditions. Trying to summarize their diverse experiences into appropriate answers for fo rms appropriate to US bureaucracy is a lot like trying to force an enormo usly diverse number of shapes into a round hole. Many questions asked on these fo rms do not apply to individual refugees and sometimes necessitate that information be finessed or even made up. This process can be challenging and surely only suc ceeds in creating an approximate representations of the individuals. One reoccurring situation is that many of the nami ng systems used by refugees function differently than the American sys tem, where traditionally, upon marriage, the wife takes the husband’s last name an d all offspring also carry this last name. For example, among some Burmese refugees men and women are traditionally given two names, which are very commo n and gendered. These


78 names often do not represent familial connections; often members of the same family will have completely different “last” names. Moreover, they are generally called by both of their names as opposed to just th eir “first” names. For other refugee groups, the name said first is the family n ame and the name said second is a personally distinguishing name. I once helped an Eritrean man fill out a Social Security application and we had a very difficult ti me communicating about the information required by the form. I asked him for h is first, middle, and last name; he replied by giving me his name, his father’s name and his grandfather’s name. Knowing that naming systems differ, I tried to expl ain how the American system works. He repeated his name, his father’s name, and his grandfather’s name. Unsure of what to put, I tried to explain again and then ask him what he wanted me to put. He became very frustrated, and I ended u p just picking the order that seemed best to me. This experience was very uncomfo rtable because I knew that there was not a perfect solution to entering his na me into the form, but I also knew that the solution I came up with meant that hi s documented identity in the US would be created through this form and that the name on the form was not true to his understanding of his name.6 Another example is birthdays. Many refugees do not “know” their birthdays, at least not by the Western calendar. Be cause of this, many refugees are given the first of January as their dates of birth on forms, with estimates of the years they were born. The IRC office in Atlanta thr ows a big birthday party on 6 I think it bears mentioning that his name as print ed on his I-94—the first identifying document refugees receive when they come to the US—was actua lly misspelled, which the client was greatly upset to realize. However it was spelled correctly on his Social Security application.


79 January first because so many refugee clients have January first designated as their birthdays. Similar discrepancies arise often. Other examples i nclude education level and work experience on job applications.7 While some refugees didn’t go to school, others were educated in other countries or refugee camps; however, it is very difficult to determine how that experience tra nslates into the US education system. Likewise, although they may have spent thei r entire lives working as subsistence farmers, many refugees have not had exp erience with wage labor. Thus it is necessary to frame this experience in wa ge labor terms, such as “selfemployment,” and specify the type of farming indust ry. A different kind of friction in the system arises f rom the physical aspect of resettlement. A physical location must be found to actually resettle refugees, and locating these spaces can be complicated. Through i ts R&P program, the federal government provides a set amount of money for housi ng. This limits the housing options available to refugees. Sometimes the limita tions require that single unrelated refugees cohabitate, which on occasion le ads to conflict. Also, in Clarkston, many of the apartment complexes that pro vide housing within the R&P limits are in strikingly poor condition and arguabl y unsafe. Kristin, a logistics coordinator at the IRC said, “… I was surprised at where we resettle our c lients… I feel like it’s ridiculous that in the past six mo nths there’s been more than five incidents of either beatings, rapes, or even one ki lling.” Refugees also experience tension in Clarkston from of other Clarkston reside nts. 7 This applies much more for employment-seeking adul ts than for children who are still young enough to attend school, and who take placement tes ts or other more specific methods of determining education level.


80 For many refugees, this is their first time living with central air, running water, and electricity. Furthermore, through the R& P program, refugees are provided a standard-issue, often unfamiliar collect ion of American furniture and household supplies. Sylvia, a former resettlement c ase manager, describes how use of these features sometimes differs from their intended function. [Sometimes, you go to a refugee family’s home and] it smells like kind of poop…and oh, what do they do? They don’t th row the things in the toilet—they just put it in the basket there. Oh my god. It’s smells, oh…[But] I don’t have a problem with [ them eating meals on the floor,] that’s what they’ve been doing always…[That’s] their way. We are not to tell them to [use] a table and four chairs—they’re not gonna use it for eating meals. In addition to the inherent challenges of trying to conform refugees’ identity and experience to a standardized mold, the re are a number of reoccurring logistical challenges that complicate the resettlem ent process. Arguably, the most difficult challenge is language. Resettlement is a complicated procedure; the number of forms, appointments, and visits to govern ment bureaus would make an experienced American’s head spin. Clearly explainin g what the process entails to a refugee who has English abilities and who likely has had very limited exposure to government bureaucracy is unthinkable. However, a large portion of refugees have no English-speaking abilities, and communicati ng about even the most basic details can be literally impossible. The IRC Atlant a and other refugee resettlement offices try to hire employees who speak multiple la nguages, especially those commonly spoken by refugees. However, while having a staff member or two who can communicate directly or translate is enormo usly helpful, it cannot meet the communication needs of dozens or even a handful of refugees who are being


81 served by the office as a whole. Often, this setup means one or two employees work constantly and many other employees and client s wait for them to be available. When no IRC staff member is available fo r translation, other refugees with more advanced English skills will help or paid translators will be used occasionally. Less often, a chain of translators wi ll be used; in this case the information goes from English to a second language and then from that language to a third language spoken by the intended refugee. It cannot be stressed enough how much waiting for o r lacking translation can delay or complicate very basic tasks. In a runof-the-mill errand during my internship, I went to pick up two groups of refugee s who spoke two different languages and did not speak English. I brought them to the office to fill out Social Security card applications. One group was Burmese, and prior to my leaving to pick them up a Burmese case manager called them to tell them what documents were needed and to be ready. After successfully pic king up the first group, I drove to the apartment of relatives of the Burmese group, where I was told they would be. The relatives said they had gone home, so I dro ve to their apartment complex and knocked on their door. When someone answered, I read out the names on the list I had. She shook her head no, indicated me to follow her to a large group of refugees and American apartment residents, then poi nted to someone. I approached the person and again said the name on th e list. The person nodded, so I pointed to my badge, said “IRC,” and pointed to t he car. He looked as though he understood and walked back to his apartment to get the rest of his family. When they came out, I said, “IOM bags,” to remind them t o bring the bag of documents


82 issued by the International Organization of Migrati on.8 Not understanding after several tries, he walked away and came back with a younger girl who spoke some English and explained to them that they needed thei r bags. The family, a couple and two children, came back to the car with their documents. I indicated the two children’s car seats in the back, and the parents set about situating their kids in them. While the littl e girl was cooperative, the little boy cried and kicked and screamed when his mother t ried to buckle him in. I said, “I can’t go if he’s not sitting in the seat,” knowi ng they wouldn’t understand my words but hoping they would understand my meaning. The parents tried a few more times, without success, and then looked at me questioningly. I reiterated that I could not drive unless he was in a car seat, but it seemed we were at an impasse, so I went to find the girl who had translated for u s before. I brought her back, and she explained the situation. After some confusion, the parents found someone to watch their kids, and we left—about half an hour af ter I first arrived at the complex—to go to the IRC office. Another related difficulty is maintaining access t o refugee clients. The majority of recently arrived refugees do not have h ome or cell phones. Most of the time, contacting them with basic information su ch as appointment times, to expect for someone to pick them up, to come to the office, or just to ask them a question, means either relaying the message through someone else, waiting until they come in to tell them, or physically going to t heir homes to tell them. These options are inefficient, unreliable, and time-consu ming. Without phones it can 8 IOM bags hold many of the first documents issued t o refugees, including biomedical data records and, importantly, their 1-94s. At their new arrival orientations, refugees are instructed to keep all documents in these bags and bring them to all their first appointments.


83 also be very difficult to physically locate refugee s, which poses challenges when they need transportation to important appointments. One experience I had demonstrates how difficult it can be to track down refugee clients and the repercussions of not locati ng them. I was sent to find a young man who was married and had an infant, to pic k him up and take him to a government bureau office so that he could fill out some paperwork. I arrived at his apartment complex, went to his door and knocked As happens somewhat often, no one answered. Under normal circumstances, I would have called to confirm that he was expecting me, or I would have c alled to find him when he didn’t answer the door; however, these options were not available, so I had to find him another way. Fortunately, refugee clients often—at least during the summer— congregate outside in their apartment complexes, so I approached a group that I saw nearby to ask if they knew the client I was loo king for and where I could find him. I said the client’s name and eventually found someone who recognized it. This person, as well as a group of boys who followe d us, led me to a different building, to the second floor, and presented me to a man. I said the name of the person I was looking for, and the man nodded affirm atively. I then tried to say words I thought he would know to ask him if he knew that someone was going to pick him up to fill out forms. He looked at me conf usedly. It took a few minutes, but we somehow—through facial expressions, gestures and other people’s assistance—figured out that he had the same name as the person I was looking for but was not, in fact, that person. Then a person wh o apparently knew someone


84 else with the same name volunteered to lead me to h im. He led me back to the first apartment I’d been to, knocked on the door ag ain, and eventually a young lady came to the door. The lights were off, and it looked as if their baby may have been napping. My guide asked her if the man I was l ooking for was home; when he came to the door I showed him my IRC badge and a gain fumbled through an explanation of why I was there. He appeared to unde rstand what I meant and we walked to my car to go to the bureau. When we got t here, I went up to the counter and was told that they were about to close and didn ’t have time to help us. So I took the client home, and we left the paperwork for another day. What is especially frustrating about this experience is tha t I had originally gone to the correct apartment, but then spent half an hour on w hat was essentially a wild goose chase. However, from my experience, this is n ot at all uncommon in refugee resettlement. Another problem, this time more on the bureaucratic side than on the refugee side, is what seems to be a kind of bottlen ecking at different points in the process. This occurs both within the IRC office and at the various government agencies and other offices that contribute to the r esettlement process. For example, there are tasks that can only be done by c ertain IRC staff members, such as processing check request forms. If the person wh o reviews the request forms and then produces checks is out of the office, it c an mean a delay for every process that needs a check to move forward. On a la rger scale, if one of the bureaus is backed up it can mean substantial delays For example, if the Social Security Administration is backed up on getting Soc ial Security cards out to new


85 arrivals, every single process that requires a Soci al Security number—which applies to most initial resettlement processes—will be delayed. Other “bottleneck” delays include visiting an office wher e one must wait for hours, even with an appointment. These points of build-up in ne cessary processes, whether resulting from temporary absence at a crucial posit ion or, more commonly, from staff overburdening, generally mean that those depe nding on the completion of a process must wait for much longer than it would oth erwise take to complete. Often this means idling in waiting rooms for hours. These three challenges—language, access barriers, a nd “bottlenecking”— all contribute to another reoccurring problem: the compounding of delays. This does not just mean that many delays add up. It also means that, due to the nature of the delays that tend to happen, some delays may trigger other kinds of delays. Generally, there are two sides—the refugee side and then the bureaucratic side— that need to be in sync in order to accomplish nece ssary tasks, but both tend to be imperfect. For example, at the IRC Atlanta office, Tuesdays an d every other Thursday are designated Social Security and Departm ent of Family and Children Services (DFCS) days, respectively. On these days, employees of these bureaus come to the office, help with applications—Social S ecurity card applications on Tuesdays and refugee cash assistance, food stamps, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) on Thursdays—a nd take the applications back for processing. These applications are process ed rapidly; if applications are submitted on days other than these, they are not pr ocessed as quickly. Thus, if


86 clients fail to come or do not bring the documents necessary to complete the applications, the processing of their applications will not be delayed simply by the amount of time it takes for them to show up with th e full paperwork, but additionally by the amount of time it takes until t hey again have the opportunity to apply. Another often reoccurring example involves medical appointments. Often, in order to see specialized doctors, appointments m ust be made well in advance, as much as a month or two ahead of time. If, howeve r, on the day of that appointment, some kind of breakdown in communicatio n occurs that prevents a refugee client from making it to the appointment, h e or she then has to wait another long period of time for an opportunity to b e seen. Pat, the IRC receptionist, calls this phenomenon of scrambling t o make sure one’s ready for the chance to accomplish something, a moment that o ften takes indeterminate and long periods of time to arrive “Hurry up and wait.” A further example of the way bureaucratic structure s shape how refugee resettlement takes place is the dominant tension be tween the needs of refugees and the demands from government funding offices to document the process. All staff members within resettlement services must bal ance the amount of time spent meeting with clients and addressing their needs wit h time spent doing necessary paperwork and other bureaucratic tasks. The purpose of most paperwork is to document that contractually-obligated duties have b een performed. In this sense, the needs of the refugees and the demands of the go vernment offices are the same: the government demands that VOLAGs provide document ation proving that they


87 have provided certain services to refugee clients.9 However, because at the end of the day the paperwork is what is checked to verify that these duties have been done properly, at times more explicit emphasis is p laced on correctly filling out and filing forms than on the quality of the perform ance of the tasks. This is not to say that tasks are not conducted or not conducted p roperly; the IRC staff members care deeply about the quality of the work they do a nd give absolute priority to the well-being of the refugees with whom they work. How ever, because government offices perform audits on the paperwork to make sure that agencies are performing their part of funding contracts, and all staff members are overloaded and barely have enough time to complete their assig ned workloads, there is inevitably a tension between the actual work and th e documents representing the work. During my time in the office, many staff members an d interns expressed surprise and distaste at the amount of time spent w riting case notes, printing documents, copying documents, filing forms, and che cking and rechecking that files are correct and complete, compared to the amo unt of “face time” actually spent with refugee clients. Kristin said, “Well, le t’s see… my first month…working in the resettlement department… I gue ss I just thought I was gonna spend more face time with clients than, like, on the files—I was surprised to see how much filing was needed.” Similarly, Sylv ia said, “I thought there would be more time one-on-one, like more time with the people actually, with the 9 While it is the government that delineates for the most part what these services will be, some refugee needs are addressed much more adequately th an others, and the government must keep detailed records of how money is spent, certainly o ne of the primary purposes of these records is to ensure that the refugee is receiving the service s that he or she has been guaranteed by the US government.


88 refugees, because that’s what kind of gives, to me, a better sense of what… their needs [are] and then they’ll have more time to ask too, you know?…Because I know that they have the questions.” However, Kristi n also sees some benefits of the paperwork and filing system and how important i t is in the resettlement process: “Now I realize that was a good experience to have because it really helped me understand…this is the kind of paperwork you have to have in order to prove services that we’ve given and also to kind of help me understand the whole process.” Two reoccurring phenomena highlight this tension be tween “face-time” and paperwork and how each affects the other. First IRC staff and interns often— maybe more often than not—refer to clients by their names as written on the files, last then first. Undoubtedly, this is largely relat ed to the fact that many of the refugee clients’ names sound unfamiliar to most of the employees, so it is not obvious the order in which they should go. Also, in some cases reversing the order of the name is not necessarily wrong because, as previously mentioned, some of the refugees come from naming traditions wh ere the second name is actually a personal name and the first name is a fa mily name or identity as a person being from some larger group. However, the f act that many staff members and interns so naturally call their names in last-t hen-first order demonstrates to what extent clients’ files mediate interactions bet ween IRC staff and the clients as real people. The second phenomenon relates to the case notes wri tten by staff regarding the completion of certain tasks; here the implications are a little less


89 obvious. Many case managers and job developers use templates describing specific required tasks, such as medical screenings and school registration, for their case notes, and then fill in the details for the client when the task is completed. While this is not always the case, it is not uncommon for the case notes to have errors, usually incorrect gender pron ouns or wrong names. Although this is mostly indicative of employees being overwo rked and perceiving the case notes as being of little importance, it also implie s that the case notes are of less importance than the tasks themselves in the eyes of the staff members. It again demonstrates that bureaucratic documents intended t o represent phenomena that take place in real life are often a poor approximat ion of how those phenomena actually happen. Like many agencies working within bureaucratic stru ctures, the staff at the IRC is faced with overburdened and protocol-bound g overnment bureaus upon whose functioning the agency can have little effect And like many others who face overburdened bureaucratic structures, there is a pervasive sentiment at the IRC Atlanta that these structures will keep being o verburdened and inefficient and there’s not very much one can do about it. However, this does not mean that the IRC staff does not have the ability to affect these interactions and processes through preparedness and strategic approaches. Alth ough the IRC is also strained financially and overburdened with work, the staff i s constantly brainstorming to come up with new ways to make their efforts more ef fective and efficient. These strategies are enacted at every level of the organi zation, from the personal to interactions among groups of people to networks bet ween different agencies and


90 bureaus. While mindful strategizing is pervasive, t his is not to say that these efforts are flawless or that the staff’s work is wi thout imperfections. Ineffective and detrimental strategies and approaches do exist and are also informative. The contrast between successful strategies and more pro blematic strategies highlights how much influence the staff members can and do hav e on the refugee resettlement process. Regarding IRC staff and refugee client interactions choices regarding how contact takes place are made both at the staff memb er and office levels. Since refugee clients and IRC staff at times have difficu lty understanding each other, and staff members are often strapped for time becau se of their work loads, such as some staff members tend to take care of tasks filli ng out applications or activating food stamp cards without trying to explain the proc esses to the refugee clients they are helping. Not involving refugee clients can severely hinder their progress in becoming self-sufficient and reinforces the idea that IRC will always be there to perform these tasks. Pat, from her vantage point as the receptionist, believes allowing this precedent to continue causes problems for both the refugee clients and the agency later: …[Clients] that have been here for a long time… com e in with things that… we can’t do anything about anymore…[Th ey’re] past their timeframe of certain things…[If] you come in after a year or 18 months, we’re not gonna help you fill out your f ood stamp review. We’re not gonna take you to the doctor. We’ re not gonna do these things. And standing out there insisting o n it isn’t gonna get anywhere. Sometimes we need to be a little… I h ate to say meaner, cuz sometimes that’s how people perceive it but… it’s easier to go ahead and take things and do it than t o not do it. [We] need to get [staff] to get to where [they are] kind of forcing that self-sufficiency a little bit quicker, cuz some… pe ople that are gonna kind of ride that pony as long as they can…Bu t I mean…


91 sometimes… it’s like you have to put your foot down and say no and mean it and carry it out. We’ve had people… rec ently… you know, cussing at us and slamming doors, and, you kn ow, following people to job sites and things like that. Some staff members, on the other hand, want to incl ude refugee clients as much as possible to encourage their self-sufficienc y. Sylvia, with whom I worked when she was a case manager, tried to include her r efugee clients in every process because she thought that being familiar with forms, offices, and procedures—even if the process was only vaguely understood by the c lient—would greatly facilitate self-sufficiency and understanding over time. In ou r interview, she spoke adamantly about encouraging clients to be self-suff icient and independent from the resettlement agency: You need to always [inform them about resources and all their options] because if you’re not… they’re not becomin g selfsufficient, they’re becoming so attached to…[the] c ase manager, [the] agency…So [it shouldn’t be] like “Sylvia says ”—you know, the case manager, the IRC. No, you choose. So, you’ re giving— you’re empowering them. You’re giving them agency…. They might not be able to read it… but they can come bac k to [it], you know, just have it there…. [It’s] not to send them every single paper, it’s just that [they need] more resources, [ so they’re] not… so [attached] to the IRC. Because suddenly we just cut their wings, right? Because it’s like “No, come, come, come” and then, suddenly, we cut their wings, you know, and they mi ght not all be ready. And then where are they gonna turn to? Staff members are required to conduct regular “home visits” to clients’ residencies. While my experience with home visits w as limited, I did hear IRC employees express different sentiments about them. Some staff implied that they did not value them as highly and often saw them as inconvenient obligations, whereas others considered them important opportunit ies to spend time with clients and check on their progress. Sylvia also expressed how essential she saw these


92 meetings, both as an opportunity for insight and to level the power differential between resettlement worker and refugee client: [Most] of the case managers, they didn’t really lik e the 30 day visit. To me, that’s kind of the neat thing…plus, y ou go there, [and] they have a way to [reciprocate], you know, t o change things… [That’s] their time, like “Oh!” you know “W elcome!” It’s… their space, and so the roles…are a little…di fferent. But for [the other case managers]… it was kind of an ordeal that was something that they did not want to do… [Part] of w hat really motivated me was to see like that family… going far ther in their lives and to keep on going in this country. It’s a moment to have questions—the silly questions like the toilet paper and how to flush, and showing things the first time…[Case mana gers] would be doing it like “Oh, [there are]… all these forms to fill sign…Ok bye!” To me, there’s no other way… These people…nee d this, that’s why we [do it]. We need to spend more time o n [it]. Because then, they’re going to be doing certain things, and then we’ll blame them…which is terrible. [It’s] ridiculous. What are you blaming on them? It’s…part of the structural problems…[It’s] n ot there to blame on them. Other strategies and approaches regarding interac tions between IRC employees and refugee clients occurred at the agenc y level. Some were official attempts in response to problems and others were un official but widely practiced or perceived. Several of these strategies address t he constant complaints by staff members that clients were getting into their office s without permission and interrupting their work. Hours where clients can se e their case managers without an appointment are limited to Monday through Thursd ay from 9 am to 3 pm and refugee clients are asked to wait in the reception area until the resettlement worker with whom they wish to meet is available. Ho wever, clients often get frustrated because they do not like how long they h ave to wait. Many refugees attend English class in a room that has access to t he rest of the office and they often go straight from class to their case managers ’ and job developers’ offices


93 when they want to meet with them, sometimes while c lass is still in session. The office as a group has worked to emphasize that refu gee clients should go to class first, wait until it has ended, and then request th e person whom they want to see at the receptionist’s desk. While the wait may be long er, the workers can better structure their time and work with fewer distractio ns. Another problem that comes up between IRC employe es and refugee clients is that sometimes the clients become frustr ated and angry. During my time in the office I only saw one instance of an upset c lient, but I heard many other stories from employees. These occasions often invol ve yelling and cursing, and sometimes involve throwing objects, spitting, and o ther physical gestures. To address this problem, the IRC set up a workshop on conflict resolution to teach employees how to respond when they think a client i s frustrated and his or her anger is escalating. The final example of office-level strategy involv es cultural awareness. I was surprised when I started working at the IRC tha t I encountered no formal cultural sensitivity training and only minimal info rmation regarding specific refugee groups. Cultural information was advertised and available on the IRC website and national online network and employees p articipated in and discussed cultural associations and events outside of the off ice, but I saw no cultural training or awareness workshops organized through the agency I am certainly not fully aware of every program or resource that the office did provide, but in my discussions with employees several did express frus tration with what they perceived as a lack of cultural training. Kristin s aid:


94 So, I...was surprised to see how little… cultural t raining… our staff has. I think that a lot of time it’s assumed that b ecause a lot of them were former refugees that they get the experie nce, but then that doesn’t make all of us experts on every cultur e. And I feel like sometimes there’s a lack of sensitivity to some cul tures and some are favored over others. And honestly I’ve seen it in the supervisors as well, which can be a little disheart ening….I feel like we can always be better, and I would like to see a lot more, like, cultural training, cultural sensitivity, even like office etiquette. I also witnessed many instances of employees expres sing preferences for some cultural groups or nationalities over others. Especially with certain groups, employees would often write off or explain clients’ behavior through their ethnicity or nationality. Although I do believe the ir suppositions were often based on observed patterns in behavior and facts about re fugees’ cultures, and were also employed to facilitate interactions, the consistent dismissal of the significance of people’s actions as being just a product of their c ultural upbringing was disconcerting. Cultural patterns of behavior and va lues do exist and it is important to know what behavior different cultural groups hol d as expected or frowned upon; however, the tone used in these instances was often disrespectful and gave the impression that some employees perceived groups of refugees as being all the same. Nonetheless, these instances were not common and I did not observe employees explicitly treating refugee clients discr iminatorily based on their nationality or ethnicity. The IRC has also implemented some strategies to im prove the language and access problems mentioned earlier. They work to keep employees on staff who speak the languages of the refugees they resett le. Additionally they have created and expanded the case aide position which i s often held by previously


95 resettled refugees and others who share a language with many refugees. Case aides spend a lot of “face time” with clients, prov iding transportation, participating in home visits, and facilitating many other tasks. I have also heard that the IRC plans to implement a program to provid e cell phones to refugees being resettled which should help with communicatio n. Another kind of interaction in which IRC staff memb ers employed specific strategies to influence those interactions is those between the IRC and other bureaus involved in resettlement. As previously described, interactions with other offices, especially government offices, can be drawn-out and frustrating. Simple calls often result in being kept on hold for hours; scheduled a ppointments can require waiting for hours; and paperwork sometimes takes weeks to proce ss. The IRC has developed a number of simple but innovative responses to these delays. First of all, as mentioned, the IRC has regularly scheduled meetings with repre sentatives from the SSA and DFCS. These meetings allow a focus point for what o n most days is a sizable load of paperwork and applications that must be assembled a nd processed systematically. Moreover, they enable the office to have regular an d focused time with designated representatives of that bureau, as opposed to rando m and trivial interactions with unfamiliar representatives, as would likely happen if the information was processed over the phone or by mail. Similarly, both within the IRC and at the other off ices, there are specific contact people who deal with certain areas. For exa mple, Saadia is the designated DFCS representative who deals with the IRC, and Rob is the designated medical specialist at the IRC. Having specific contacts and specialized representatives

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96 permits those people to have regular interactions w ith other contact people at outside bureaus and greatly facilitates necessary e xchanges. Instead of having a non-designated employee call a general number, wait on hold, then have to explain in detail the circumstances of a situation in order to handle it, these designated employees can often call the private ext ension of someone they know and with whom they have worked, get through quickly and handle the exchange with far less explanation because they can draw on previously shared information. Furthermore, instead of IRC employees throughout th e office conducting uncoordinated exchanges with other bureaus, that sp ecifically designated person can consolidate calls and can quickly cross-referen ce separate but related cases. They can also monitor interactions between the IRC and other offices and intentionally develop positive relationships and wo rk to improve or end detrimental ones. While in many cases this approach greatly improves what would otherwise be drawn-out and tedious interactions, it also has its drawbacks: having a designated representative can easily set up a bottl eneck clog. This past summer, Rob was out of the office for several weeks. He had encouraged everyone else to wait until his return to handle medical problems or to handle it through his intern if it was urgent. This obviously greatly delayed ma ny necessary procedures. Some staff members, however, decided that they would rat her try to take care of things themselves instead of trying to do it through Rob. Having to take care of some of these interactions myself, I found that they were t edious, time-consuming, and required much greater familiarity with the medical system than I had. Moreover,

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97 upon Rob’s return he was frustrated with the disorg anized and uncoordinated efforts that had been made in his absence. IRC staff also sought to develop and maintain relat ionships with other players instrumental to the resettlement process. F or example, the IRC and a local store, Thrifttown, have formed a relationship in wh ich Thrifttown allows IRC clients to cash their checks for free and with limi ted identification. This resource is crucial for newly arrived refugees who have no m oney and who have not yet received identifying documents. The IRC has also bu ilt relationships with the apartment complexes where clients are resettled and works to maintain them by sending their offices appreciative packages. Howeve r, while these relationships were certainly advantageous in some ways, Kristin e xpressed concern that, combined with the perception that bureaucratic cons traints already limit options, they might also hinder the exploration of better op tions: So [there are certain] standards that we’re using t o find our complexes and we have previously established relationships…And… yes, everyone’s busy, but I feel like we need to [learn from negative experiences] and stop and b e like…what are our options? The IRC also has relationships with other resettlem ent agencies and organizations that focus on refugees. Its relations hips with other VOLAGs is interesting, seeming at times collaborative, compet itive, or indifferent. As Alex, a job developer said, “I think we do not compete to t he extent…for profit companies do. In fact, if anything, we collaborate a lot. We…share information with each other. We have inter-agency trainings. Um … the only level at which I think we compete—maybe the biggest level we compete at—is to get funds from

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98 the state.” To some extent, the relationship among VOLAGs is inherently competitive; although there are only ten VOLAGs and they are generally guaranteed contracts and funding from the Departmen t of State and from the Department of Health and Human Services, the amount of funding they will be granted depends on their performance. Ellen, the ex ecutive director of the IRC Atlanta office, confirmed that this competition exi sts when she expressed concern that my research at the IRC might reveal “trade sec rets,” presumably to be kept from other agencies. VOLAGs also compete for contra cts to perform specific tasks, for example, the IRC’s contract to work with TANF receivers. The benefit of being contracted to do these tasks was not made completely clear; such contracts were only mentioned a few times. These co ntracts do not provide additional funding aside from what is necessary to perform the task, which does not seem like much incentive considering that it me ans additional work for already overloaded staff members. However, it is po ssible that these extra contracts provide some kind of prestige or a means of comparison between VOLAGs—that the value is in being selected to recei ve the contract. It’s also possible that VOLAGs compete for them because they can provide extra data about well-known situations such as Iraqi refugees or Haitian temporary protected status (TPS) receivers, useful in fundraising publi cations. Relationships between VOLAGs can also be friendly a nd collaborative. My familiarity with these dynamics is mostly based on the relationship between the IRC and the Refugee Resettlement and Immigratio n Services of Atlanta (RRISA) because the IRC and RRISA were located with in the same office

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99 complex during my research.10 The two office staffs were familiar and friendly with each other. IRC employees were able to provide more details about interVOLAG cooperation. Alex continued: [So] we compete on that level but at the same time we also collaborate because, um, it has happened several ti mes that one agency cannot fill all of the units for a certain t ype of social service. And—for example maybe we cannot fill all t he units for a certain employment service and so we can swap and s ubcontract out to each other… [In] the three and a half years that I’ve been here it’s happened several times, and it doesn’t se em to be… an odd situation. I think um, in general… in general t he attitude and climate in VOLAGs is that every VOLAG wants to stay afloat and survive, but we’re here to… serve our clients. While nothing was ever explicitly said in this rega rd, I detected some level of indifference and perhaps disparagement on the pa rt of IRC employees towards other VOLAGs, most often towards RRISA, with whom t hey had the closest contact. At one IRC staff function that took place outside the office, a number of RRISA employees happened to show up. While their gr eetings were friendly, there was minimal conversation between the two grou ps. Aside from this interaction, I saw few other interactions between I RC and RRISA staff. I’m not even entirely sure where in the complex RRISA’s off ice was, which highlights that the relationship between the two offices was o f minimal importance. On a few other occasions, IRC employees made comments in passing about RRISA that were less positive. It is possible that these comments came out of a sense of competition between the two offices. I think it is more likely, however, that IRC employees—who often referred to the IRC being “the best” resettlement agency—perceived RRISA as not being as good as the IRC. I was never able to 10 RRISA is itself a collaborative office between two other VOLAGs, Episcopal Migration Ministries and Church World Service.

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100 locate an actual ranked list of the ten VOLAGs, but I think it is very likely that the perception of being better, whether based in fact o r not, affected the feelings the IRC staff had towards RRISA. This clearly supports the notion that there is some competitive sentiment in the system. This tension b etween competition and collaboration is an interesting phenomenon and may be a quality relating to the public-private nature of the US refugee resettlemen t system. There are also a number of coalitions concerning re fugee resettlement and refugee issues, including the Georgia Coalition of Refugee Stakeholders, the Georgia Refugee Community, and the Georgia Immigran ts and Refugees Rights Coalition. While my exposure to these groups was li mited, employees mentioned them and occasionally gave presentations at them, a nd I believe the executive directors of different VOLAGs often attend. There w ere also smaller conferences and meetings mentioned in staff meetings that IRC e mployees attended. I imagine that these groups and coalitions play a substantial role in collecting information about refugee resettlement and seek to apply that i nformation to changes in refugee resettlement, but my knowledge of these gro ups is very limited so I do not know exactly how they work. From my experience, refugee resettlement at the IRC was a combination of limitations and innovations. My first impression s and experiences were marked by a general sense of disorder—unorganized files, u ncoordinated off-site missions, enormous stacks of paperwork, miscommunic ation. I believe that these elements that were so striking to me are indeed the re and are in many ways inherent to the process. While certainly there are improvements to be made, what

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101 I came to realize was that improvements were consta ntly being made. One thing I found interesting about my interviews was that ther e seemed to be a combination of glass-half-full and glass-half-empty perspective s: some employees predominantly expressed more negative criticisms ab out how the process worked and what improvements needed to be made and others conveyed more positive outlooks about how well the process worked given th e constraints and how much had gotten better. From what I’ve seen, both of the se perspectives are valid and important; while on the one hand it is crucial to b e alert about what problems are coming up and how they can be improved, on the othe r hand it is valuable to keep in mind what is accomplished and what progress has been made. While my first impressions were more from the critical point of vi ew, over time I learned about what changes and innovations had been made over the years, and I came to appreciate the more positive perspective as well. However, the more I came to recognize how the IRC a nd its employees made strategic decisions in response to the basic r efugee system in order to make it more reliable and efficacious, the more I recogn ized that this implied that the basic structure, both what was included in the core services—housing, furnishing, clothing, health screenings, government assistance programs, employment services, English classes—and what was not included was lacking. It seemed that the IRC was, from what I could tell, doing an admir able job resettling refugees; the employees were invested in the work and in thei r refugee clients, their clients seemed to be getting jobs in a timely manner, and t he staff in general was committed to developing programming that would allo w their services to go well

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102 beyond what was required by law. Frank estimated th at, for example, ninety-eight percent of IRC clients enrolled in the Matching Gra nt program find a job by the end of the four months they are guaranteed assistan ce;11 for clients enrolled in the RCA program, who are both less employable and who r eceive a smaller amount of assistance each month, the IRC has additional fu nds to ensure that these clients can get support until they find work. However, if t he success rate was lower or if there was less funding to help support clients when things don’t go according to plan, it could mean serious problems for clients. F or example, I asked Rob how the care refugees would receive if they were to onl y be enrolled for basic services without anyone working on their behalf to navigate the system and find good doctors compared to the standard of service the IRC seeks to provide: Rob: I mean if people only relied on the health dep artment for their refugee health, you know, that wouldn’t be good. Because th ere’s one physician at each location pretty much…People can do that, peopl e can choose them as their PCPs. They’re only ever gonna see nurses and they’re not gonna get referrals and if they get referrals it’s gonna be a slow process. They might see a doctor versus… I mean the best it is is the w ay it is right now which is really—except for the hurdles there’s no differe nce between a billionaire with the best insurance and these peopl e going to the doctors that we help them get to. Me: But that requires like a lot of work? Rob: Oh yeah, a lot of work… Me: A lot of knowledge? Rob: And relationships with the doctors’ office so that we know if there’s a glitch with healthcare that it will be resolved. Ordinaril y they would just let that 11 While this is a ballpark guess based on his experi ence, there are reasons to think this is a reasonable general estimate: the number of Matching Grant slots available to a resettlement agency each year is based on how many refugee clien ts enrolled the previous year found work within the four months the program provides assista nce. Frank has been working in the resettlement department at the IRC for five years, so he should be well acquainted with each year’s numbers.

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103 person go. Throughout my time at the IRC, I saw many examples like this that indicated that if a resettlement agency were to fol low and provide only the minimum required by their government contracts, the y would likely be providing very poor services that could end up with the refug ee client being in an even more vulnerable position, especially as their period of eligibility for government assistance ran out. It is difficult to determine wh at this implies, especially because my own experience in refugee resettlement is limite d to the IRC. It is possible that some resettlement agencies do only provide the mini mum standard of service, or at least that they could theoretically, and that th is would be accepted by the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration and t he Office of Refugee Resettlement. Conversely, it is possible that since funding amounts for resettlement agencies are determined based on their performance—which is true at least to a certain extent—they are held to a hig her standard, even if that standard is determined by competition between them and not by actual federal requirements. Nonetheless, it seems to be the case that the basi c services provided for by the government, through funding for resettlement ag encies and through the public programs available to refugees during resettlement, are at a rather low standard. Furthermore, it seems that the responsibility is pl aced on resettlement agencies to improve the standard of services by their own means both in terms of providing a safety net when government provisions are insuffici ent and in terms of extending the quality and range of services provided to allow for a more secure and

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104 promising resettlement process. In December 2010, after I completed my internship a nd most of my research, the IRC Atlanta moved offices. They moved to an office park northwest of their old office, also on the I-285 perimeter of Atlanta, but farther away from Clarkston. The IRC had been planning the move for s everal months, and had intentionally sought an office with a layout that w ould address a number of the problems they had been facing with the physical str ucture of the old office. While my experience in the new office was limited, I was able to visit it a couple of times and to speak briefly with a number of employe es regarding their thoughts about the new office. Undoubtedly, the new office and location will chang e IRC activities in myriad ways, but the most immediately recognizable is the effect of the new layout on office dynamics. The new office is much l arger than the old office, and has a clearer separation between areas designated f or refugee activities and those designated for office activities; in fact, passage into the office area required being buzzed in by the receptionist or using a coded card The new office had a larger reception area, as well as adjacent client break ro om, classrooms, and bathrooms, creating an entire area designated for refugee clie nts. In the employee office area, there was much more space and several conference ro oms that could be used for different activities. The new layout eliminated muc h of the need in the old office to have several activities taking place in the same general area. Employees with whom I talked said that the new office was much qui eter and they were able to accomplish work more efficiently, but that they saw fewer people, both

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105 employees and refugees, throughout the day and that the office was much less energetic. It will be interesting to see how these changes affect productivity, stress, and employee interactions.

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106 Conclusion Refugee resettlement is a unique and important poi nt in the refugee system. Refugees who are resettled generally come a fter perilous journeys and long periods in refugee camps. They have lived thro ugh uncertainty about the future and where they will ultimately go, and the r efugees who are resettled— only about one percent of refugees worldwide—are of ten placed in countries with which they have very limited familiarity. Refugee r esettlement is an important component of national self-perception and identity in the United States, one of the largest funders of the UNHCR and refugee relief wor ldwide, as well as the nation who admits by far the most refugees for resettlemen t (Haines 2010). However, refugees who are resettled in the United States are expected to rapidly conform to American culture and values, and the adjustment per iod for refugees is challenging. In many ways, it is resettlement agencies and thei r employees who are expected to facilitate and negotiate the needs and demands on both sides. The US admits refugees with certain expectations about the kinds of citizens, or at least residents, they will be, and refugees certainly hav e expectations about what the United States will offer them as their new home. Wh ile it is easy to make generalizations like this about divergent and somet imes opposing expectations, refugee resettlement is the process during which ma ny of these sweeping statements actually develop in real and immediate w ays. Moreover, resettlement agencies are often the physical place where they ar e articulated and must be addressed, and this is an important reason why they are worthy of study.

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107 Additionally, for many refugees, resettlement is t heir introduction to American culture. Although I was limited in my inve stigation of how the resettlement process is experienced from the perspe ctive of refugees, refugee resettlement as an area of study is of critical imp ortance in general because it forms many of the first lessons of acculturation to the US that refugees experience. Refugee resettlement is both theoretically prescri bed and a physically acted-out process, and it is important to realize t hat these two things are not necessarily the same. As a hypothetical prescriptio n, resettlement is complicated but neat; there may be numerous forms to apply for and complete, a dozen different assistance programs for which one could b e eligible, but for every person there is a “correct” process. In theory, eve ryone can fill out a form with the necessary answers and there are appropriate boxes t hat everyone can check. In the actual resettlement process, things are much messier. In theory, filling out and signing a form is a self-evident pr ocess; in reality, if one doesn’t speak English and hasn’t grown up dealing with West ern-style bureaucracy, it can be a bewildering endeavor. In theory, the function of furniture is obvious and one has but to provide it for it to be used appropriate ly. In reality, when one has never used a toilet with running water or a table and cha irs, or is accustomed to other approaches for relieving oneself or eating meals, i t can be neither easy nor preferable to use them. In theory, going to an offi ce or a doctor for an appointment is as simple as having the appointment scheduled, having enough free time, and going there. In reality, if one does n’t know one’s way around, has

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108 no practical means of transportation, doesn’t have a phone to call if necessary, and can’t even explain the purpose of the appointme nt once there, it literally becomes impossible. From observations and interview s, these seem to be the kinds of day-to-day challenges that resettlement wo rkers and refugees have to address regularly. Fundamentally, refugee resettlement is largely a cu ltural interaction that requires resettlement workers to act as translators between different cultural understandings. It is the responsibility of the res ettlement agency and its staff to negotiate and navigate gaps and discrepancies, to u nderstand both the perspective of the bureaucracy and the perspectives of their re fugee clients and to maneuver between them adeptly enough to satisfy each side’s demands. Additionally, it is their responsibility to try to translate or express each perspective to the other side so that their future interactions will be more fami liar and more easily conducted. Accomplishing these often challenging tasks means h aving many different kinds of know-how, including familiarity with people’s ba sic needs—for instance, if someone needs a child seat and whether or not someo ne needs translation, familiarity with people’s cultural backgrounds—unde rstanding how guests are expected to behave in someone’s home or how someone is likely to regard counseling, as well as institutional expectations, understanding how soon a client must get a job in order to satisfy the requirements of a given assistance program and how to properly document and file records to en sure that contractual obligations for funding are satisfied and funding w ill continue to be provided.

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109 Resettlement agencies or their employees do not and can not make the process perfectly fluid. Resettlement is an inheren tly jarring and difficult experience. Furthermore, the players are not equal in their ability to influence the process or make demands of the other players. The f ederal government is by far in the most powerful position, capable of defining the process and the requirements and deadlines and enforcing consequences if those r equirements are not met. Refugee admittance and resettlement may be a servic e provided to people in need, but it is offered with many strings attached. Refug ees, conversely, are in very vulnerable positions and as individuals have very l imited influence on the resettlement process or what is expected of them. F urthermore, resettlement workers are human—they are at times insensitive, di sorganized, distracted and overburdened. In their positions, they are also lim ited in their power to influence the demands of the system. These things being said, however, resettlement work ers and agencies can respond strategically to the structure in place and to the needs and desires of their refugee clients and have a notable impact on the re settlement process. They are in a unique position to detect patterns that emerge an d gain insight as to how the process can be improved. They can and do act on thi s insight to improve how procedures are carried and can also provide feedbac k about what structural changes could better the process. Aside from their roles negotiating between governme nt bureaucracy and their refugee clients’ needs, resettlement workers are personally affected by their work and by policy changes that shape how resettlem ent happens. The state of

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110 funding or programming affects what is expected fro m them or what they can hope to expect from their jobs. As Angela described many IRC employees lost their jobs due to the cessation of refugee admissio n—and with it, the reduced funding—that followed the attacks of September 11, 2001. During the economic recession that began in 2008, many job developers e xpressed frustration and discouragement at their difficulty finding availabl e jobs for clients. Conversely, the funding increase for the R&P program that was i mplemented in 2010, which both raised funds for refugees per capita and for a dministration expenses, clearly brightened the spirits of many IRC employees. The a dditional resources provided greater financial security for newly-arrived refuge e clients and made it possible to expand or develop services provided by the agency; many IRC employees are concerned about adequately meeting these needs for refugee clients and feeling that the ability to meet them has improved seems to allow employees more pride in and gratification from their work. In addition to the fact that resettlement in theory and in practice do not perfectly reflect each other, the issues of focus a t the level of resettlement and at the level of policy also differ. While it is diffic ult to find a publication in refugee studies that does not at least mention the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or at least its definition, rese ttlement workers with whom I referenced the 1951 Convention were not acquainted with it. I asked Kristin if she had heard any discussion in the office concerning e nvironmental or climate refugees and she said she had not, “but it doesn’t mean they are not discussing it at higher levels at HQ.” Some employees, after read ing my interview questions,

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111 mentioned they thought some of my questions were “r eally tough.” After my second interview did not go as well as I had hoped, I chose to make my questions less policy-oriented because I realized that some e mployees would have trouble relating to them. Instead, I decided to open with q uestions that related more to their work and let them guide how much we discussed policy based on how familiar they seemed to be with it. In general, whe n I asked employees about funding, policy and policy changes, and the UNHCR a nd the global refugee system, some were much more well-informed them than others. Based on this and on my observations in the office, I do not think th at policy issues come up often in discussions among IRC Atlanta employees. There does seem to be a shared sentiment, to some extent, that a resettlement offi ce is not the appropriate place to discuss policy issues, or at least that resettlemen t employees do not consider policy issues relevant to their work. On a number o f occasions, employees with whom I tried to discuss policy, even very loosely, encouraged me to talk to higher-level staff. As Kristin’s comment above impl ies, there also seems to be a shared sentiment that the appropriate place to disc uss policy issues is at the administration level or at the headquarters offices Where Are We Now and Where Are We Going from Here? The year 2010 marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980, and an important opportunity to assess the de velopment and quality of refugee admittance and resettlement in the United S tates, how it has changed, and where it might be going. The trends of refugee admi ttance, legislation, and

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112 programs, all of which contribute to the condition of resettlement, are inconsistent. On the one hand, the Refugee Act brou ght US legislation into accord for the first time with the provisions of the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol and allowe d, in theory, the admission of refugees of any nationality. On the other hand, it has been accompanied by infringements of rights of some refugees—notably Ha itian asylum-seekers—and what some groups have argued are violations of the nonrefoulement requirement and other obligations the United States has agreed to extend to refugees (Churgin 1996; FIAC 2005); while these instances may occur r elatively infrequently compared to refugee assistance and admission, they are very significant and definitive in how the US treats refugees and values their rights. Since 1948, the United States has admitted over fo ur million refugees, with about 2,871,000 admitted after the R&P program was established in 1975 (Haines 2010:4). Over two and a half million have b een admitted since the Refugee Act of 1980 was created. In 2000, 73,147 re fugees were admitted. In 2001, 69,304 were admitted, in 2002, 27,110, and in 2003, 28,442; these numbers reflect the decrease in admissions following the 9/ 11 attacks of 2001 (IRC 2010). The year 2009 saw 74,654 refugees admitted—more tha n any year since 1999 (BPRM 2009b). The admission ceilings for fiscal yea rs 2010 and 2011 are both 80,000—the highest they’ve been since 2001 (BPRM 20 09a, 2010b).12 12 Comprehensive, up-to-date numbers for refugee admi ssions are difficult to find. Haines (2010) provides total admissions by region, not including asylees, up to 2010. The IRC Case Manager’s Kiosk has proposed ceilings and actual admissions f rom the years 2000-2009. I was unable to find admissions by year before that. Furthermore, althou gh the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration has admissions for each year sorted by co untries of origin, its website only lists admissions sheets for the years 2003-2004 and 20062009; of these six years, the website links for

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113 In addition to generally increasing numbers—at lea st since 9/11—in 2010 the Obama administration increased funding in the R &P program from $900 to $1800 per capita, as the original grant amount crea ted in 1975 has declined in real terms. It has also requested an extra $25 million f or the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) for improved case management and emergency housing during resettlement for its 2011 fiscal year budget (BPRM 2010b). In the report to Congress concerning Proposed Refugee Admissions for fiscal year 2011, the administration continued: Furthermore, the administration has adopted a numbe r of other changes to the program, including regular interagen cy meetings led by National Security staff, more frequent consultat ions with external stakeholders, the provision to local agenc ies of more complete information about cases before they arrive and greater attention to the health care needs of refugees afte r arrival. The overall goal is for all parties involved – be they at the federal, state, or local level, and from both the public and privat e sectors – to more effectively meet the needs of resettled refuge es. (BPRM 2010b:iv-v) In the year 2010, during the week of the thirtieth anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980, Senators Patrick Leahy and Car l Levin proposed the Refugee Protection Act of 2010 (Leahy 2010). This l egislation would improve the conditions and support the rights of refugees, espe cially asylum-seekers, in the United States. Included in its provisions were the creation of minimum living standards for asylum-seekers held in detention, met hods for reducing or eliminating detention of asylum-seekers, abolition of the one-year in the US application deadline for potential asylum-seekers w ho may be unaware of asylum as an option, and improved due process for asylum-s eekers. However, the 2007 and 2008 are crossed, and the links for 2003, 2004, 2006, and 2007 lead to error pages. Thus I was unable to attempt any comparison of refugee a dmissions by country.

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114 proposed act was discarded at the end of that Senat e session before it had completed committee review (Govtrack Refugee Protec tion Act of 2010). While government efforts like this imply the poten tial for progress within the refugee resettlement program, other actions thr eaten to drastically harm it (Schillinger and Walczyk 2011). The budget cuts inc luded in its 2011 resolution would reduce funding to the ORR by forty-five perce nt. Such a reduction would likely cripple refugee resettlement in the US, and also affect refugee situations throughout the world, at least as long as the cuts remain in effect—but it remains to be seen whether these cuts will pass in the Sena te. A nation’s motivation has to not only admit refuge es but also provide assistance for their resettlement are complicated, and looking at trends of admission over time can be indicative of who may be offered refuge in the future. Anthropologist David Haines (2010) explores some of the different incentives— and how they are tied to morality—that influence th e United States’ stance(s) toward refugees. One factor is the particular ident ity of a refugee group: This theme of rejecting or accepting refugees based on their specific identity has been a continuing on in the U .S. refugee program. Those refugees with strong constituencies have fared better. Those who could unite multiple constituenci es have fared best of all, for example, by appealing to the human itarian impulses of the left, the anticommunist impulses of the right, and the communitarian impulses of co-ethnics and co-rel igionists. (2010:3) Other factors include political opposition and sid es in war, for example the admission of refugees from Communist nations during the Cold War, and the admission of Vietnamese and now Afghanis and Iraqis “fleeing situations made worse by American involvement” (2010:5). He also in cludes the position of the

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115 United States as a member of the international comm unity, having committed to certain international agreements and being theoreti cally obligated to do its “fair share.” In general, he asserts that the position of the United States regarding refugees is tied to both compassion and self-intere st: “It is the fate of the dispossessed to be at the mercy of the conflicting humanitarian and self-serving motivations of those whose borders they cross” (201 0:xii). Understanding how both refugee admission and reset tlement processes have worked is vital for the future. In addition to familiar kinds of refugees— those produced by conflict and persecution—the worl d is facing enormous numbers of people displaced by environmental degrad ation and climate change, and their numbers will continue to rise over the co ming decades. With these populations are sure to come conflicts over resourc es, including land itself, which will further complicate the supposedly clear distin ctions between political refugees and other kinds of migrants. Although the current refugee system may not be able to adapt to cover the need and/or may n ot even be the best way to provide relief from displacement due to environment al causes, the two will very likely shape each other. Programs such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) that can address both may be important in resolving thos e situations where political and environmental forces are conflated. A number of factors contribute to why it is unclear how the UN, resettlement nations, and na tions producing and immediately admitting—or not—environmental or clima te refugees will respond. Resettlement nations have a history of being reluct ant to accept larger numbers of refugees (Black 2001; Foster 2007; McNamara 2007). Within the UN, there are

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116 further complications: the resettlement nations hol d considerable voting power, and their preferences will influence UN policy; it is unclear which office of the UN has the appropriate mandate to address environme ntal refugees; and the UNHCR has expressed concern that opening the origin al refugee agreements could have negative consequences for the current sy stem. Additionally, conceptual questions, such as how to define “enviro nmental refugees,” how many “environmental refugees” currently exist and could be produced in the future, and the relationship between refugees and environmental issues, make it difficult to determine what actually needs to be discussed. The issue seems to be gaining more mainstream atten tion, though. The year 2010 saw the release of a new documentary, Climate Refugees, which attempts to shed light onto the problem and its glo bal manifestations (Nash 2010). The film has been screened at a number of festivals although it has not yet been released to the public, and features a number of pr ominent politicians, such as Newt Gingrich and John Kerry. Interestingly, though while the Facebook page for the film—which appears to have been produced by the director—credits the IRC, in addition to the UN and the Red Cross, as he lping to fund the project (Nash ND), the IRC website does not mention the fil m. In fact, the IRC website hardly mentions populations displaced due to enviro nmental degradation at all.13 Thus, while coverage and discussion regarding “envi ronmental” or “climate 13 The IRC website produces three articles relating t o refugees and the environment. One describes a project to improve resource access for a group of refugees. The other two do relate to environmentally-induced displacement: one briefly d escribes the IRC’s efforts to mitigate environmental impacts on at-risk populations—withou t mention of more systematic responses— and the second briefly describes the first. All art icles are dated 2009. I could find no articles or pages relating to environmental displacement on the IRC site more recent than that.

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117 refugees” is happening very actively in some places it is hardly recognized elsewhere. And while some steps are being taken by the UNHCR and other groups to address these issues, these steps are kno wingly limited. The UNHCR (2009) has indicated an impetus to act to address t hese issues, but it must wait until its mandate is extended, if that will in fact happen, before it can act beyond its current capacity. More mainstream coverage is a n important step towards action being taken, but already affected and at-ris k populations need assistance as quickly as possible, especially if potential threat s are to be mitigated. While refugee resettlement is a process that is inh erently responsive, it is the final step in a series of processes in which mo re proactive approaches are possible. Smart planning and effective monitoring c an accomplish much towards improving conditions and outcomes for displaced pop ulations. It is imperative that the United States learn from the history of re fugee populations and responses and be proactive in anticipating these changes.

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118 Bibliography Barnes, Richard 2004 Refugee Law at Sea. The International and Comparative Law Quarterly 53:47-77. Bates, Diane C. 2002 Environmental Refugees? Classifying Human Migr ations Caused by Environmental Change. Population and Environment 23:465-477. Beasley, David 2009 International Rescue Committee Celebrates 30 Y ears in Atlanta. Global Atlanta September 24. Available online at Accessed February 21, 2011. Bell, Derek R. 2004 Environmental Refugees: What Rights? Which Dut ies? Res Publica 10:135-152. Benoit, Jean-Pierre and Lewis A. Kornhauser 1992 Unsafe Havens. The University of Chicago Law Review 59(4):14211462. Biermann, Frank and Ingrid Boas 2010 Preparing for a Warmer World: Towards a Global Governance System to Protect Climate Refugees. Global Environmental Politics 10:60-88. Bixler, Marc 2006 The Lost Boys of Sudan Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press. Black, Richard 2001 Fifty Years of Refugee Studies: From Theory to Policy. International Migration Review 35:57-78. BPRM (US Department of State Bureau of Population, Migration, and Refugees) 2009a Proposed Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2 010. Available online at on/129393.pdf. Accessed April 6, 2011. 2009b Summary of Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year 2009. Available online at on/140491.pdf. Accessed April 6, 2011.

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