Divergent Narratives of Home, Belonging, and Integration in the U.S. Refugee Resettlement System

Authors: Emily Frazier*, University of Tennessee
Topics: Migration, Immigration/Transnationalism
Keywords: refugees, U.S. refugee resettlement, integration, belonging, home
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: 8226, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The U.S. 2016 presidential election rekindled debates on immigration and security, resulting in unprecedented politicization of the U.S. resettlement program. During 2017, a series of executive orders suspended the program; subsequent admissions for FY 2018 and 2019 plummeted to historic lows. These events undermine the stability of the program, aggravate the precarity of refugees already in the country, and stifle their continued integration into American communities. This presentation draws on 40 in-depth, semi-structured interviews conducted with refugees, employees, and volunteers in the aftermath of these policy shifts. Based in a southeastern U.S. city, the fieldwork examined the integration of refugees. By focusing on housing as a key dimension of integration, the presentation examines the meanings of “home” and divergent narratives of belonging among refugees in two primary ways: as “place-belongingness” or feeling “at home,” and as political claims to socio-spatial inclusion (Antonsich 2010). This analysis critiques current conceptualizations of migrant integration which fail to account for socio-spatial and affective modes of belonging. Language proficiency, economic “self-sufficiency,” and attainment of middle-class status (i.e. home ownership) constitute the primary ways in which successful integration is defined by resettlement actors. However, while refugee participants also discuss socio-linguistic proficiency and economic attainment as goals, their discussions of belonging reveal nuanced understandings of integration, in which participants’ communities, relationships, and personal transformations are described as evidence and justification of their belonging. Reference: Antonsich, M. 2010. Searching for belonging–an analytical framework. Geography Compass 4(6): 644 - 659.

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