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New book reveals the nightmare of US refugee system

14 September 20230 comments

A new book reveals how refugees resettled in America face a land of daunting obstacles and stymied ambition.

The book ‘We Thought it Would Be Heaven: Refugees in an Unequal America’, explains how small things, often one person of one encounter, can make all the difference in getting ahead or falling behind for refugees in the US.

Authors Blair Sackett and Annette Lareau tell how fleeing war and violence, many refugees dream that moving to the United States will be like going to Heaven.

Instead, they enter a deeply unequal American society, often starting at the bottom.

Through the lived experiences of families resettled from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the authors reveal how a daunting obstacle course of agencies and services can drastically alter refugees’ experiences building a new life in America.

Fleeing the deadliest wars since World War II, refugees from the DRC were the top nationality group resettled in the United States from 2014 to 2022

In these stories of struggle and hope, as one volunteer said: “You see the American story.”

For some families, minor mistakes create catastrophes—food stamps cut off, educational opportunities missed, benefits lost.

Other families, with the help of volunteers and social supports, escape these traps and take steps toward reaching their dreams.

The book is engaging and eye-opening and takes readers into the daily lives of Congolese refugees while offering guidance for how activists, workers, and policymakers can help refugee families thrive.

The book is beautifully written and heartrending. It tells what happens when refugees needing rescue from violence arrive in the US.

Instead of security, the refugees encounter a patchy resettlement system that often pushes them into the ranks of the unprotected working poor.

It’s an eye-opening, deeply unsettling account that incorporates sharp analysis with richly detail human stories.

The book “exposes the bewildering maze of rules and regulations that trap refugees in Kafkaesque fashion as they navigate the US bureaucracies charged with their resettlement”, one reviewer said.

At the heart of the book is the gap between the American dream and its reality.

It has lessons not just for US policymakers and advocates but for all refugee accepting countries.

It’s a call to action for a rethink on our capacities to ensure that the most vulnerable immigrants are not lost in a bureaucratic nightmare.

We Thought it Would Be Heaven: Refugees in an Unequal America’, University of California Press, $36.50.