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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

“We wouldn’t put it in our name because we’re trying to make sure they understand they have an obligation to pay rent,” Russell said.

The nonprofit leader says that successful refugee resettlement sometimes means the refugee must take low-paying jobs at places like chicken processing plants soon after their arrival to get them onto a path to self-sufficiency. The hope is they will eventually move into more fulfilling jobs once they learn more English or obtain professional licenses. Refugees with white-collar backgrounds can struggle with that transition.

“I am sure it’s a tough pill to swallow,” Russell said. “But this is not your forever life. This is the starting-over point. And sometimes that’s hard to adjust your mind to. I get that. But, you know, this is your chance at a new life. And it’s a very prescribed program.”

In Briceño Peña’s view, “Refugees have no option but to be condemned to cheap labor.”

She says she has struggled to find a job because of bureaucratic delays in getting her work permit, and because of her lack of English and transportation.

Her relationship with Catholic Charities soured.


In December, just two months after she arrived, the agency sent Briceño Peña a letter informing her it would cease providing her services, even as it confirmed it would still pay for two more months of rent. There is no prescribed duration for how long refugees must receive services from resettlement agencies – the State Department notes agencies are responsible for providing services “for up to 90 days after arrival.”

Briceño Peña says Catholic Charities cut ties with her before she could get a cultural orientation or employment skills training.

According to Russell, the agency sometimes ends services early when issues arise with specific refugees and “it’s not working out cooperatively.” Russell said Catholic Charities asked the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) to audit Briceño Peña’s file to make sure the charity had handled her case properly, and PRM confirmed that it had.

Briceño Peña has tried to connect with other local refugee resettlement agencies to get services through them, but those efforts have proven fruitless. She thinks that the fact she wasn’t able to receive the same number of services as other refugees amounts to discrimination. She has appealed to state and federal agencies for help but has come out of those interactions empty handed. She reached out to the AJC and other outlets to tell her story.

“There are no mechanisms, no way for refugees to denounce irregularities and be listened to,” she said. “I never would have thought this could happen here.”

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