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N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change


This article assesses the efficacy of the legal framework for asylees, individuals granted refugee status within the United States, through an examination of the human outcomes following the grant of asylum. To understand how the asylee benefits system actually functions, I conducted more than fifty field interviews with advocates, service providers, and government officials in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. This research fills a conspicuous gap in our understanding of what happens after the grant of asylum and reveals a number of insights about the ways in which the prevailing laws, policies, and programs yield suboptimal outcomes, even given the limited resources presently devoted to asylee integration. Interviews yielded important findings, including that the current legal structure and attendant administrative programs push asylees quickly into survival jobs, which are often a stark mismatch for their education and skills. For educated asylees, these survival jobs impede both English language acquisition, which is critical to successful integration, and re-credentialing to allow recognition of education and expertise acquired overseas. For less educated asylees, the rush to employment in a survival job similarly delays and potentially undermines successful integration and may result in future costs to counties, states, and the federal government. The subsequent financial distress asylees experience plays a role in housing instability and delays in applying for permanent residence. These problems are compounded by limited ongoing mental health treatment for asylees, who are often survivors of torture or trauma, and delays in the family reunification process.