“Starting from below zero” : Iraqi refugee resettlement and integration in the United States and Austin, Texas
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This dissertation explores the resettlement and integration of Iraqi refugees coming to the United States, and particularly to Austin, TX, from 2008-2012. On a broad level, it seeks to understand how peoples, organizations, and government actors combine to negotiate the controversial practice of third-country refugee resettlement. Data is drawn from 16 months of participant observation at a local refugee resettlement agency in Austin with Iraqi refugees and from one-on-one interviews with many of those refugees and with local agency service providers. The research seeks to explore what (and how) federal, state, and local policies shape the everyday resettlement and integration experiences of Iraqi refugees in Austin. In addition to policy and other structural obstacles in place in the current American resettlement paradigm, the dissertation also seeks to understand aspects of agency utilized by Iraqi refugees and how, if at all, cultural, social, and political factors contextualize and impact their experiences upon arrival to the United States and throughout their first few months in this country. The study finds that Iraqi refugees are highly impacted both by political and social structural issues already in place within the receiving society but also by cultural and social factors and frameworks which they “bring with them” from Iraq. The study also illustrates that the current literature on refugees underemphasizes refugees’ voices. These voices depict the experience of resettlement and integration in the United States as one where many feel a sense of being caught “between here and there” and constantly trying to “catch up with life” but without enough help, support, or guidance. The voices underscore the human experience and struggle of forced migration generally and specifically that of third country resettlement of Iraqi refugees to the United States.