Abstract: Local Welfare System Response to Refugees: Between Innovations, Efficiency, and Creating Unequal Opportunities (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

261P Local Welfare System Response to Refugees: Between Innovations, Efficiency, and Creating Unequal Opportunities

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Karolina Lukasiewicz, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, New York University, New York, NY
Tanzilya Oren, MA, MSW, Ph.D. Candidate, Fordham University, New York, NY
Saumya Tripathi, MPhil, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Fordham University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: Migration scholars frequently view cities as being innovative and efficient in responding to the needs of their immigrant communities. At the same time, the risks of the decentralization of integration policies and how they operate on the ground remain overlooked. This study critically analyses the structure of demand and supply of immigrant integration policies in a local context, by offering a novel theoretical framework of the response of a local welfare system (LWS) to immigration. The framework analyzes the demand and supply structure of immigrant policies in a local context. It expands understanding of the local system of provision of welfare resources by state and non-state actors to immigrants, and thus bridges the gap between migration studies and social welfare scholarship. Additionally, the study uses the street-level bureaucracy framework (Lipsky, 1980) to explain in more detail how the service supply within the LWS operates on the ground. Also, the study highlights the direct voices of frontline workers involved in LWS and of refugees themselves.

Methods: The study is based on a case of refugee integration policies in a large metropolitan city and uses qualitative data collected from 33 representatives of the local LWS (21) and refugees (12). The data were analyzed using the grounded theory approach.

Findings: The results of the study reveal that the combination of policy (1) decentralization, (2) underfunding, and (3) “coordination challenge” – contribute to a “lottery effect” of unequal opportunities for refugees, instead of best addressing the local needs. In such a context, refugees struggle to access accurate information and quality programs, while service providers struggle to navigate and stay informed about the existing policies and programs. As a result, the supply of services for immigrants heavily relies on the resources of individual organizations, which further exacerbates inequalities. Instead of being enthusiastic about shifting the responsibility of social policies to local levels, we argue that caution is warranted. Also, local immigrant integration policies cannot be analyzed separately from national-level welfare and immigrant integration policies. In fact, our case shows how these policies are closely related.

Conclusion and Implications: Local governments and non-profit organizations can support their immigrant populations in multiple ways and to some extent buttress national immigrant reforms. However, national-level support in the form of regulations and funding is critical for adequate service provision in the local context. The case of this city shows that the city administration struggling to balance its own budget and to counter the severely reduced funding of the refugee resettlement program by the federal government, cannot entirely compensate for the cuts. It also has little effect on what is the national-level domain of country-entry policies for asylum seekers and refugees, and immigrants in general. In sum, the local integration policies and immigrant services can be bolstered by broader, revised and more coherent federal immigrant and refugee integration policies. Increased federal and local policy cohesion and funding can help to coordinate local services better; improve standards of services; increase outreach to marginalized refugees; and disseminate social innovations.