Saturday, April 11, 2015
Immigration Article of the Day: From Surviving to Thriving? An Investigation of Asylee Integration in the United States by Lindsay Muir Harris
From Surviving to Thriving? An Investigation of Asylee Integration in the United States by Lindsay Muir Harris, Center for Applied Legal Studies, Georgetown University Law Center; University of California, Berkeley January 29, 2015 New York University Review of Law & Social Change, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2016 Forthcoming
Abstract: This article assesses the efficacy of the legal framework for asylees, individuals granted refugee status within the United States, through an examination of the human outcomes following the grant of asylum. To understand how the asylee benefits system actually functions, I conducted more than fifty field interviews with advocates, service providers, and government officials in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Washington DC metropolitan area.
This research fills a conspicuous gap in our understanding of what happens after the grant of asylum and reveals a number of insights about the ways in which the prevailing laws, policies and programs yield suboptimal outcomes, even given the limited resources presently devoted to asylee integration. Interviews yielded important findings, including that the current legal structure and attendant administrative programs push asylees quickly into survival jobs, which are often a stark mismatch for their education and skills. For educated asylees, these survival jobs impede both English language acquisition, which is critical to successful integration, and re-credentialing to allow recognition of education and expertise acquired overseas. For less educated asylees, the rush to employment in a survival job similarly impedes successful integration and may result in future costs to counties, states, and the federal government. The subsequent financial distress asylees experience plays a role in housing instability and delays in applying for permanent residence. These problems are compounded by limited ongoing mental health treatment for asylees, who are often survivors of torture or trauma, and delays in the family reunification process.
This article offers several prescriptions for reform to help asylees, who have often already survived unthinkable horrors, to thrive in the United States and to allow our society to more fully benefit from asylee contributions. First, revisions to regulations implementing the Refugee Act are necessary to shift from an almost singular focus on rapid employment and economic self-sufficiency to a more holistic approach to asylee integration. Second, the playing field should be leveled for asylees by amending the current benefits package to be more aligned with the benefits received by those who are selected to enter the U.S. as resettled refugees while still overseas. Third, measures should be taken to increase asylee awareness of and access to the benefits to which they are entitled. Finally, short and long-term data gathering on asylee integration must be improved. These prescriptions for reform promise not only a more meaningful chance at life for asylees in the U.S., but will also benefit our communities as asylee contributions are maximized.