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The Uncertainty of Refugee Resettlement: Reflecting on

My Experience with a Resettlement Agency


Molly Mrzlak
Social Justice Internship Program Job Development
The SJI grant program is an academic internship experience which places 10 students in a
Chicago area nonprofit, where they will intern 250-275 hours over the course of a year.
Department
I interned 10 hours a week, within the job
Outside of the internship, students engage in a cohort which focuses on community
development department, which provides
building, reflection, and training.
employment services for up to five years
I applied to this program with the intent of interning with Catholic Charities’ Refugee after a client arrives. Employment
Resettlement Program, as I am passionate about working with the refugee population in the background is immediately assessed and
Chicago community. I also wanted to expand my understanding of and interaction with clients are enrolled in a job readiness class.
social justice. The cohort model enhanced my internship experience in that I was able to: My daily tasks in the department included:
• Take concepts learned in the classroom—such as asset-based community development— • Creating resumes;
and apply or look for them at my internship site. • Conducting interview practice;
• Take experiences from my internship and share them with my fellow cohort members, • Employment intake assessments
and vice versa, in order to make meaning out of them. • Providing orientation/guidance to the
• Be challenged by, and challenge, my fellow cohort members members to think deeper community and public transportation;
about social justice. • Filling out job applications;
• Employer outreach;
• Accompanying clients on job trips
Employer Outreach
At the beginning of the fall semester, I was tasked with an employer outreach
*Source: Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Services
project. As a population that has limited English skills and needs to achieve
self-sufficiency quickly, refugees are more likely to be taken advantage of
when searching for work, so relationships with ethical employers are vital. Fostering Compassion through Direct Service
In my time with Catholic Charities, I came to realize that direct service is necessary to sustain compassion, which, in
turn, is necessary to enact social justice. By interacting with clients, I was able to put myself in their shoes, even for a
Goal Process Outcome Challenges little bit. In one instance, I assisted a client in getting to work, which took two hours via public transportation. This job
at a factory was their only option because of their limited English. The client was frustrated—rightfully so—and being
• Make connections • Research • Successfully • Negative rhetoric
with them during that small part of their struggle helped me better understand how difficult life can be for newly arrived
with more ethical • Cold calls made connections surrounding refugees
employers, such as refugees. It also forced me to evaluate my own privilege, another aspect necessary for social justice. As a native speaker I
with two • High expectations on
unionized industries • Face-to-face part of the employer have more of an advantage finding work that isn’t as labor intensive, is closer to my home, and pays better; all of which I
meetings employers thought about when searching for part-time summer employment for myself. Consequently, my passion for refugee
or “B Corporations” • Unresponsive, or
even rude, employers rights strengthened and I am committed to the notion that we can—and we must—do better when it comes to
supporting displaced persons worldwide.

#3: Assess and #4: Build #5: Gain insight into #6: Understand the
#1: Understand my future career
#2: Develop analyze client connections with nuances of refugee
employment at a path
interpersonal and needs and employers resettlement and
Summary of nonprofit • Too much
advocacy skills employer needs •For every 100 how policy affects
• Addressed prior effectively uncertainty with this type of work
Learning Outcomes misconceptions • Reached through cold calls only resettlement • Solidified this
employer • Learned how to one is made • Desire to work in
• Ready to have a outreach and ask the right • Success in knowledge
career in the a different
client interaction questions and act employer • Interviewed
nonprofit sector nonprofit assisting employees
based on needs outreach project refugees

Challenges after Recent Policy Changes


2017 was an unprecedented year for refugee resettlement, especially for Catholic Charities. In the short term, since employees have less clients to serve
and have more time on there hands, they are able to provide more intensive case management and focus on things they couldn’t have before. However,
this cannot be sustained with the agency’s current budget deficit. Every agency only receives the allotted Resettlement and Placement money when
their clients actually arrive, so the agency is being supported by Catholic Charities as a whole.
In the long term, there is a concern that with less clients to serve, layoffs will need to happen, or—more drastically—the agency would have to close.
This uncertainty, in part, caused the two permanent job developers—my supervisors—to seek employment elsewhere during the month of January
thus affecting the nature of my internship. When my supervisors quit, I no longer received as much guidance so I had to step up and be self-starting,
especially when I had significantly less clients to assist and thus less tasks. So, I took the time to focus on my sixth learning outcome and interviewed
staff members about the effects of policy changes.
I learned that the uncertainty of the refugee resettlement program is causing stress on all levels. Staff members mentioned clients who came to them
hysterical that they were going to be deported after initial travel bans were put into place. Existing clients who wanted to apply for family reunification
can no longer do so, because that program is suspended. If agencies were shut down, cases would need to be closed and they could not provide key
services. These are only a few concerns that have come as a result of national refugee policy being changed.
After hearing what employees have to say about these challenges, it is clear that other agencies have the same challenges as well. After seeing first-hand
the effects of these policy changes, I am more motivated and prepared than ever to work toward refugee rights. Finally, I believe that resettlement
agencies have the capacity—and duty—to be vocal about these policy changes and push for the United States government to be held accountable
*Source: Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement Services: as of March 23, 2018, Illinois has only
when it comes to accepting refugees.
resettled 18% of the total projected 1,896 for the whole fiscal year, which is already halfway over.

Molly Mrzlak, Loyola University Chicago 2018 Instructor: Andrew Miller Site supervisor: Kate Kuhn
Global & International Studies and French Language & Literature Center for Experiential Learning Catholic Charities, Refugee Resettlement Department
mmrzlak@luc.edu amiller11@luc.edu kkuhn@catholiccharities.net