Learning About Refugee Resettlement in the US First-Hand

I have chosen Arizona as a location of my Fulbright research to discover how Americans manage refugee resettlement. However it was also important for me to observe the dynamics between different “classes” of migrants – those wanted due to their right status and those undeserved = undocumented.

Before arriving in Arizona I did my research on the situation in the state and started to contact professors working in my area of interests. It enabled me to hit the ground running and do the best of my limited time here. From the very beginning I was working very closely with professors from Arizona State University (above all Professor Barbara Klimek – awarded for her work with resettled refugees), going to refugee resettlement meetings and conferences both in Arizona and in Washington, and making research trips to the desert. Although I am not a law student, I was allowed to take a class on immigration law, which gave me great insight into the American immigration jurisdiction and practices, and their history. Thanks to the Fulbright welcome reception I met a French researcher working here on comparison of border security in the U.S. and in Israel and we were able to conduct joint trips to the desert.

Arizona turned out to be a perfect place to conduct my research. The various conferences gave me a great understanding of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, both on the state and national level (I was able to attend the Office of Refugee Resettlement National Consultations in Washington in September, http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/orr- 2012-national-consultation). In January 2013 I started an internship at the Catholic Charities – one of the nine NGOs managing refugee resettlement in the U.S. During the internship I have been able to do by myself the tasks of an American case manager and to obtain a first- hand insight into the functioning of the resettlement program in Arizona. As the state just started to resettle Congolese refugees, I was able to observe how the coalition of actors who are going to be involved the process is being built. In the coming days I should be able to start my involvement in another project – researching involvement of ethnic communities in the resettlement process. I also hope that this is a practice, which could be easy implemented in the European countries doing resettlement.

At the same time, I have been also able to observe the dynamics on the borderland. I have got involved in the work of Tucson Samaritans (http://www.tucsonsamaritans.org) and No More Deaths Phoenix (http://www.nomoredeaths.org) – two organizations involved in humanitarian support on the borderland. They drop bottles of water on the desert to prevent deaths of those crossing the Sonora desert – the deadliest in the U.S. They also search for migrants lost in desert – those being sick and not able to travel any further or those lost and on their own, not able to find their way in any direction. The trips to the desert allowed me to talk also to the people on the other side of the debate – Border Patrol agents, The Bureau of Land Management agents or Minute Men. The forthcoming immigration reform keeps this debate alive and provides me with even more information of the peculiarities of the American thinking about immigration. Here always called immigration (never migration) due to the belief that everyone wants to come in, but no one wants to leave.

All in all, so far my Fulbright experience provided me with incredible amount of knowledge, both about the U.S. resettlement program and about the dynamics on the border; and as new projects are forthcoming, I really look forward to my remaining 4 months in the U.S.


Ania Pokorska