Abstract: Acts of Resistance: Organizational Survival in an Era of Resettlement Chaos and Austerity (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Acts of Resistance: Organizational Survival in an Era of Resettlement Chaos and Austerity

Saturday, January 19, 2019: 5:00 PM
Union Square 20 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Jessica Darrow, PhD, Lecturer, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose

Almost immediately after assuming office, the Trump administration pursued restrictions and reductions to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) through multiple channels: Executive Orders, restructuring and decreased federal funding, lowered admissions ceilings, and understaffing the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration in the State Department. Against this backdrop of institutional precarity, local resettlement organizations scrambled to adapt to their changing environment. When the time for contract renewals arrived, some local organizations had survived while others met their demise. This qualitative study seeks to explain the differences between organizational survival outcomes in the aftermath of President Trump’s Executive Orders relating to the USRAP.


This paper relies on data from a longitudinal qualitative study conducted over eighteen months between 2017 and 2018. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews with key informants from National Resettlement Agencies, state offices, local resettlement organizations, and Mutual Assistance Associations. Study participants were selected based on a purposive sampling strategy. The sample included representatives all of the local resettlement agencies in one Midwestern state known for its proactive involvement with resettlement policy advocacy at the national scale, as well as representatives of the state level and national level agencies that make up the institutional environment for these local actors. Data was analyzed using content analysis and theories of resource dependence and organizational change and adaptation.

Results and Implications

Findings show that there were key differences in the ways that administrators responded to various aspects of the Executive Orders, and that these distinctions led to differential survival outcomes over time. While some agencies engaged in innovative strategies to expand resources even while recommitting to the agency’s core mission, others simply took stopgap measures intended to whittle budgets to a bare minimum and simply weather the storm. Innovative strategies included expanding the target of service provision while remaining consistent in the type of services provided, engaging in new fundraising and marketing strategies to raise the profile of the work already being done, and exploring new areas of service provision informed by a practice approach thought to be unique to the refugee resettlement sector. Local actors engaged in these practices were able to survive the chaotic political period and the retrenchment of federal support for resettlement. This paper contributes to the literature on organizational change, providing insight into how human service organizations that are resource dependent might adapt in a particularly chaotic political climate in order to survive. Analysis of these organizational adaptation and survival strategies offers vital information for resettlement practitioners and can potentially be adapted to other institutional contexts facing similar circumstances.