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Department

Sociology

Disciplines

Migration Studies

Abstract

US refugee resettlement agencies face a daunting task: they are federally mandated to achieve resettlement within a severely restricted time frame and funding limit per refugee, all while creating integrated, “self-sufficient” US citizens. As a result, resettlement agencies must guide resettling refugees through a rigidly scheduled set of activities that are designed to expunge ‘dependency’ while finding resettling refugees jobs, homes, schools, and community belonging. Interviewing resettlement case workers and volunteers in a northwestern US city, I find that staff respond to this double bind by using informal tactics to transform the character of resettled refugees into good neoliberal ‘American’ subjects, such that economic self-sufficiency becomes a ‘sign’ of worthiness for US citizenship. Staff and volunteers responsibilize resettling refugees by redefining economic self-sufficiency as a mode of self-care and by encouraging refugees to adopt a strictly short-term cost-benefit rationality. These governmentalized tactics obscure the precarious positions of many resettling refugees and instead implement a new configuration of ‘barely making it,’ which is hidden by the invisible, unpaid labor of volunteers and caseworkers as they try to sustain refugees who have far too few resources.

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Faculty Mentor

Dr. Ginna Husting