Resettlement Policy and the Well-Being of Refugees in the U.S.: Are Political and Economic Incorporation Enough?

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 16:30
Location: Hörsaal 33 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Molly FEE, University of California, Los Angeles, USA
In light of current refugee arrivals in Europe, policymakers and scholars have been forced to confront new questions associated with large-scale refugee resettlement. As governments grapple with policy decisions related to refugee management and incorporation, arriving refugees face extreme uncertainty with regards to their social, political, and economic well-being. This paper seeks to reconcile the policy objectives of resettlement regimes with the myriad challenges that shape refugees’ integration. Conflicting priorities are inherent in resettlement, as policies that privilege the “well-being” of the receiving state do not always align with the well-being of arriving refugees. Based on ethnographic fieldwork at a resettlement agency in California, this paper explores how refugees’ welfare fits into the U.S. resettlement regime.

          Resettlement invokes the normative dilemma of whether it is better to have a resource intensive program that can only manage to take a small volume of refugees each year or to offer resettlement to a large number of refugees but with a paucity of support. U.S. resettlement follows the latter model, welcoming more refugees each year than all other countries of resettlement combined. Nevertheless, in order to incorporate such a large volume of new arrivals, the U.S. emphasizes political and economic incorporation at the expense of cultural and linguistic integration (Lanphier 1983). By outlining refugees’ “balance of rights and responsibilities” (Kymlicka and Norman 1994:360), the U.S. government actively shapes their political and economic inclusion, teaching them the terms of their membership. Through participant observation and interviews, this paper will critically examine how well top down policy aligns with the needs of refugees as they adapt to their new environment.

Kymlicka, Will and Wayne Norman. 1994. “Return of the Citizen: A Survey of Recent Work on Citizenship Theory.” Ethics, 104(2):352-381.

Lanphier, Michael C. 1983. "Refugee Resettlement: Models in Action." International Migration Review, 17(1): 4-33.