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'I am desperate:' Refugee says resettling in Atlanta came with struggles

Lautaro Grinspan, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA — In late October, Carola Briceño Peña sent a voice message to the local case worker tasked with guiding her through the resettlement process in the U.S.

The Venezuelan refugee was on the verge of tears.

“I am desperate,” she recorded herself saying while waiting at a bus stop near her new Clarkston apartment. She was hoping to head downtown but was unsure how the MARTA system worked.

“I’m not a person that can spend the entire day just looking at the wall with nothing to do. I need to move around, I need to do things and I don’t have anything to do here, I don’t have anybody to speak with. No one explains anything to me, no one tells me anything. I need help.”

Briceño Peña is navigating the same challenges anyone newly arrived to the U.S. might face, including a language barrier, social isolation and a disorienting lack of understanding about her new home. There are additional clouds in the horizon: Briceño Peña’s sole source of support, her immigration case worker, prematurely cut ties after the nonprofit that employed her found Briceño Peña uncollaborative – a characterization the Venezuelan national rejects.

Briceño Peña worked as a journalist back in her homeland, but was forced to leave because of the Venezuelan authoritarian regime’s crackdown on dissenters and independent journalists ― a tactic of repression that is becoming increasingly indiscriminate as elections near. After lengthy rounds of vetting by the U.S. government, she was cleared to legally come to the country through the refugee resettlement program.


She arrived in Atlanta last October. Currently in a process of expansion under the Biden administration, the refugee program is aimed at vulnerable people who face persecution in their home countries. Foreign nationals who receive refugee status are eligible for U.S. permanent residence — a green card — and then U.S. citizenship.

Briceño Peña says she was relieved when she made it to safety in the U.S. But she soon discovered that starting a new life in Atlanta as a refugee came with its own slate of difficulties — something that she feels is testing her just as much as the circumstances she was forced to flee in Latin America.

“I thought I would have protection and peace of mind. But I haven’t had peace of mind,” Briceño Peña said.

That’s not an uncommon experience.


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