Benjamin Levey and Rachel Zoghlin wrote an article for the Spring 2021 edition of the AILA Law Journal entitled Considering Asylee Integration: The Unfulfilled Promise of the Refugee Act. In this blog post they reflect on the topic and process and why they felt readers should know more about this issue.

The Back Story:

Individuals who have received asylum, or asylees, are eligible for various benefits and services, including both federal, means-tested benefits (e.g. SNAP, Medicaid, etc.) and refugee-specific programs such as health screenings, jobs training programs, and ESL classes. Few asylees, however, access these benefits and services.

In January of 2019, I joined HIAS to launch our Asylee Outreach Project, an initiative funded by the State of Maryland to help more asylees in the state access the support available to them. In my first few months on the job, I crisscrossed the state of Maryland, talking to asylees from Silver Spring to the Eastern Shore about their needs and sharing information about Medicaid, jobs training programs, and other benefits and services. I enjoyed meeting these resilient, driven individuals, and, as a native Wisconsinite, I enjoyed the tour of Maryland as well. The more people I talked to, however, the more confused I became: why didn’t asylees have access to these programs automatically? Why, historically, had humanitarian organizations focused almost exclusively on serving either individuals coming through the resettlement program or individuals seeking asylum? And where was the federal government in all of this?

Rachel Zoghlin, HIAS’ Associate Director for Pro Bono and Partnerships, encouraged me to continue asking these questions. And, a couple of weeks before the start of the pandemic, she suggested the possibility of jointly drafting an article for the AILA Law Journal to answer them. Over the course of this past year, as the coronavirus spread throughout the world, white supremacy and conspiracy theories metastasized throughout the United States, and the Trump Administration worked to further dismantle the asylum system, we found some respite in this article, in our attempt to understand the history of integration services for asylees and to imagine how the United States might better assist displaced persons who arrived outside of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. In the back of our minds, of course, was the possibility of a brighter day. A change in administration would lead to an increase in the number of people applying for and receiving asylum, and there would be a need to provide these individuals the support necessary to integrate successfully.

Writing for the AILA Law Journal

Our article draws from our experience working with hundreds of asylum seekers and asylees. It begins by arguing that asylees are, in fact, refugees, a rather uncontroversial claim. It then lays out the ways in which asylees receive less support than resettled refugees, citing, for instance, the low proportion of asylees who access refugee services (just 12%, in a typical year), the insufficient funding resettlement agencies receive to serve asylee clients, and the lack of assistance for derivative asylees arriving in the United States. Our article then transitions from description to argument and historical analysis, considering how neoliberalism, deterrence, and hemispheric bias—three ideologies that have shaped U.S. social and immigration policy for the last several decades—have served to both entrench and obscure the discrepancies in the support provided to asylees and resettled refugees. Our article concludes with a series of policy recommendations aimed at equipping the country to adequately welcome asylum seekers and asylees and preparing the United States to respond to the refugee flows it will assuredly see in the decades to come.

We owe a debt to dozens of our colleagues for their help with this undertaking, and we owe a still greater debt to our clients for their assistance—any attempt to understand and design services for asylum seekers and asylees must center their expertise and perspectives.

Key Takeaways:

  • In the short term, the federal government must act to ensure that everyone who receives asylum is aware of the benefits and services available to them. Currently, just 12% of asylees access services funded by the Office of Refugee Resettlement; this low access rate stems in large part from a lack of awareness.
  • In the long term, we need to reimagine how the United States welcomes and supports asylum seekers, asylees, and other forcibly displaced people. This reimagining must center the lived experience of these individuals, and the federal government must provide adequate funding for the implementation of social services to support them.
  • And last, but certainly not least: If a client of yours receives asylum, get in touch with a resettlement agency near you! There are a few ways to find resettlement agencies’ contact information: you can consult this webpage from ORR, visit the Asylee Outreach Project website here, or simply Google “refugee resettlement” and the place where your client lives.