Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The politics and implementation of U.S. refugee resettlement policy: A street-level analysis
by Darrow, Jessica Hutchison, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2015, 236; 3687143
Abstract (Summary)

Refugees arriving in the United States are assisted by local refugee resettlement organizations, which are contracted to implement federal resettlement policy. While scholarly research has investigated the formation of refugee resettlement policies, analyzed select outcomes of these policies, and to some extent examined the role that resettlement organizations might play in the resettlement process, little is known about what local refugee resettlement agencies actually do; refugee resettlement research lacks a street-level understanding of the work being done at the service-delivery level. This dissertation investigates how refugee resettlement policy works in street-level practice. The street-level perspective offers a systematic way to understand what happens in refugee resettlement agencies, what they do, and how resettlement policy is delivered. By extending street-level theory to a new empirical case, this dissertation shows what shapes resettlement policy on the ground and what the consequences are for policy as produced. This study also looks beyond the explanations of street-level theory, and raises questions about what other factors might help explain the practice choices that resettlement caseworkers make.

This study weaves together three analytic threads. The first, a historiographic analysis of federal refugee resettlement policy, explains that debates around responsiveness versus equity, the appropriate scope and duration of benefits, and the extent to which work should be required of resettled refugees, are revisited throughout the history of US refugee policy formation. The Refugee Act of 1980 was intended to resolve these debates, and standardize refugee policy for all eligible groups. The second, an analysis of the institutional structure of resettlement, explains that the institutional system in which refugee resettlement policy is implemented is inherently unstable. There are often dramatic fluctuations in the numbers of refugees that arrive; the federal and state contract structures tie funding to the number of refugee arrivals; and the financial instability that results most heavily impacts local implementing organizations. The third step in this analysis provides an explanation for how workers in two local implementing resettlement organizations in Chicago negotiate service delivery within this political and institutional structure. This organizational ethnography was conducted over an 18-month period and included over 600 hours of observation and interviews with 75 study participants.

This dissertation tells a story of a refugee resettlement policy still in flux. In spite of the intentions of The Refugee Act to standardize, the workers in this study continued to reformulate policy with their everyday practice choices. This study finds that: 1) the complex refugee admissions, allocations, and funding structures drive inconsistency and unreliability down the organizational chain, so that the consequences are felt at the point of service delivery; 2) local resettlement organizations cope with the inconsistent and unreliable flow of clients and associated funds in different ways that, in turn, differentially impact the services provided to refugee clients; 3) refugee resettlement organizations and their caseworkers are influenced by the performance measures associated with their grant contracts, and 4) refugee resettlement policy implementation differs across agencies, depending on the levels of resources at the workers' disposal, worker identity and the culture of the agencies, and the extent to which workers engaged in capacity building behaviors such as establishing and maintaining good relationships with partner organizations and companies.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Samuels, Gina M.
Commitee: Allard, Scott, Mosley, Jennifer
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Social Service Administration
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 76/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Social work
Keywords: New public management, Non-profit organizations, Refugee resettlement policy, Refugees, Street-level organizations, The refugee act
Publication Number: 3687143
ISBN: 9781321645385
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