Critical Question Doe Reading

Refugee-Run Grassroots Organizations: Responsive Assistance beyond the Constraints of US Resettlement Policy


School of Social Work, Detroit School of Urban Studies, University of Michigan—Ann Arbor, 1080 S. University Ave, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA

MS received June 2019; revised MS received December 2019

Refugee-resettlement policy as constitutive of neoliberal governance has been crit- ically examined as delimiting service provision by state-contracted refugee-serving agencies.Whatremainsunexaminedishowstate-detachedrefugee-runorganizations at the grassroots fit into the privatized, marketized and technocratic modalities of such governance. This study examines Refugee Community Organizations (RCOs) in the US and their scope of services in relation to publicly funded resettlement services, drawing on focus groups and 40 interviews with RCO leaders of Bhutanese communities in 35 US cities. Findings illustrate RCOs with a wide scope ofservices,intermsofeligibility,timelimits,proximityandmodality.Whoandwhen: RCOs target those neglected by work-oriented policies and provide assistance well beyond policy time limits. Where and how: RCOs are closer to communities in terms of both geographical and sociocultural proximity. Issues of equity and social justice are thus raised, as RCOs aim to assume important functions of the state and pursue the mandates of federal policy, without adequate resources and legitimacy.

Keywords: refugee-resettlement policy, Bhutanese refugees, neoliberal governance, grassroots organizations, service provision for refugees


Refugee-resettlement policy has been critically examined, in terms of the proc- esses, compromises and consequences inherent to marketized, public–private modes of governance (Trudeau 2008; Shutes 2011; Smith 2013; Darrow 2018; Grace et al. 2018). Such examinations posit that resettlement policy enacts neo- liberal governmentality (Brenner et al. 2010; Blanco et al. 2014; Gonzalez Benson 2016), whereby neoliberalism is neither ideologically abstract nor an institutional regime type, but is instead specified as ‘low-flying’ and grounded in practice. Resettlement policy structures and facilitates the processes and means through which the economics focus and individual focus of neoliberal ideology become

Journal of Refugee Studies Vol. 0, No. 0 VC The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: doi:10.1093/jrs/feaa010

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operationalized and actualized in practice for resettled refugees. The ‘neoliberal modes of subject (re)formation and strategies of rule’ (Brenner et al. 2010: 199) become palpable and impactful via the priorities, limits, mandates and program- ming of resettlement policy, with refugee as subject. In the US, federal refugee policy formed in tandem with earliest efforts for restructuring social policies more broadly around the 1980s is characterized by an institutional structure that is decentralized, privatized and market-oriented, with policy outcomes that com- promise the full citizenship rights of refugees (citation withheld). Non-profit or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are integral to these

processes of decentralization, privatization and marketization in US refugee pol- icy, as well as welfare policy more broadly (Wolch 1990; Trudeau 2008). Policy implementation moved down from the national level to the regional or city levels of government (Greer 2010; López-Santana and Moyer 2012; Vampa 2017). However, that devolution continues to organizations in the third, or non-profit, sector (Bifulco and Vitale 2006; Trudeau 2008; Eby et al., 2011). NGOs have come to be central actors in policy implementation, as the welfare state was restructured. This illustrates the devolution of social responsibilities from state to localities, from the public to the private sphere. Public–private partnerships enlarged the role of non-state actors, as they conjoined with the welfare state as providers of public social services. Such an institutional configuration illustrates what Jennifer Wolch (1990) theorizes and terms as the ‘shadow state’. And defining character- istics of the shadow state, as critical perspectives further argue, are the arrange- ments and dynamics of power. State-funded non-profit NGOs operate in the ‘shadows’ of the state insofar as their ties to public funding also tie them to market fundamentalism as priority and the organizing principle of policy. Refugee-policy scholars posit that state-contracted NGOs in the resettlement domain are not an exception to the shadow state. Indeed, in the US, public–private partnerships define refugee policy; nine na-

tionally based ‘resettlement NGOs’ are contracted with the federal government to implement policy. The public–private institutional structure of US refugee policy, while providing resources and affordances for resettlement NGOs, comes at a price. Policy and funding mandates restrict how those resettlement NGOs use the money, and delimit and determine their functions and services (Trudeau 2008; Smith 2013; Darrow 2018). Particularly, because refugees’ self-sufficiency is the primary policy goal, job-placement assistance takes priority, at the expense of more responsive forms of assistance (Shutes 2011; Darrow 2015). These policies illustrate the ‘inherently problematic, unstable practices’ and ‘creative capacities of neoliberalization’ and its active role (Brenner et al. 2010: 199) in structuring and delimiting service provision for refugees. Policy stipulations, combined with re- source deficiency, thus leave gaps in services and lead to forms of practice that engender inequities and delimit the social and economic rights of resettled refugees. Meanwhile, operating along the sidelines of state-contracted resettlement

NGOs are Refugee Community Organizations (RCOs): organizational entities, often small, informal and grassroots, formed and run by refugees themselves and

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emerging out of local communities. Traditional frameworks depict RCOs in terms of social capital (Zetter et al. 2005) and as cultural and associational groups, although some scholars illustrate RCOs’ more complex and integral role in addressing refugees’ immediate needs and wellbeing (Hopkins 2006; Piacentini 2012; Clarke 2014; Lacroix et al. 2015; Simpson 2015; Strokosch and Osborne 2016). RCOs are part of the private non-profit sector, but are largely neglected in analyses of refugee policy and service provision, and thus remain undertheorized in terms of the shadow state and neoliberal governmentality. RCOs as immigrant organizations are often undercounted in the official data most commonly used by scholars, and are thus also overlooked in scholarship on civil society (Gleeson and Bloemraad 2012). Not much is known about their on-the-ground, everyday proc- esses (Lacroix et al. 2015), particularly in the US. Entities such as RCOs are hard for researchers to reach and their organizational perspectives are not easily accessed, as they often have fluid, unstable organizational structures; thus, ‘there have been few attempts to theorize the scope and focus of migrant organizations’ activities’ (Halm and Sezgin 2013: 212). Scholarship on resettlement practice and policy focuses on state-contracted

refugee-serving organizations, yielding insights into how federal funding and pol- icy mandates restrict service provision, which results in consequences for refugees as service recipients (see Trudeau 2008; Shutes 2011; Connolly 2013; Darrow 2015, 2018; Gonzalez Benson 2019). What remains unexamined and undertheorized is the grassroots refugee-run organization as constitutive of neoliberal governance. As part of the non-profit sector but not tied to public funding and not linked to policy, RCOs are at the ‘lowest’ and most peripheral levels of refugee resettlement and are ‘detached’ from the state, while their larger counterparts are institution- alized and ‘attached’. Given the scalar differentials between these two entities and their degree of separation from the state, this study thus aims to examine practice modalities conducted by RCOs, in comparison to state-contracted organizations, in order to theorize about the reaches of neoliberal governmentality at the grass- roots. Contextualized by literature on refugee-policy implementation and focus- ing on Bhutanese refugees in the US, this study examines the scope of activities of RCOs using primary data from RCOs in 30 cities in 25 US states.

Resettlement NGOs in the Economics-Focused, Public–Private Structure of US

Refugee Policy

During the earliest phases of US refugee policy in the post-World War II era, it was the private, mostly faith-based, non-profit-sector organization that was the primary institution (Eby et al. 2011). Three decades later, as the US overhauled its resettlement policy via the Refugee Act of 1980, such prior practices of devolved responsibility on the subnational level were codified into federal law. Currently, nine non-profit organizations, termed ‘resettlement NGOs’ in this study, are fed- erally funded to implement resettlement policy and provide services. The bulk of such services focus on job readiness and job placement of newly resettled refugees. State governments have options for delivering federally funded refugee services:

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they can enter into public–private partnerships or utilize a wholly privatized model that permits states to opt out altogether and transfer all tasks to resettle- ment NGOs (Nawyn 2006). A US refugee-policy structure that is privatized, devolved and focused on em-

ployment has been problematized by scholars (see Trudeau 2008; Shutes 2011; Trudeau 2012; Darrow 2015, 2018). Refugee policy specifies time limits, eligibility requirements and welfare-to-work or ‘workfare’ priorities: these policy stipula- tions manifest with incentive structures, performance pressures and regulatory mechanisms for agents or caseworkers in resettlement NGOs. Such delimitations and mechanisms specify and localize the technologies of neoliberal governance or market fundamentalism in the US resettlement-policy domain. As such, studies of refugee-policy implementation illustrate contradictory processes and outcomes, detailed in the ‘Findings’ section below: gaps in services, inequities and the com- promising of the social and economic rights of refugees.


Emerging out of resettled-refugee communities, grassroots groups that are run by and for refugees themselves are termed RCOs in this study. RCOs vary widely in structure, size and capacity, depending on factors such as country of origin; host community; time in existence; and availability of funding, technical assistance and support systems (Hopkins 2006). Many have established themselves as formal entities with legal non-profit status, but some remain informal organizational entities. Because these groups often emerge out of communities of newly arrived refugees, RCOs are often inchoate and lack organizational capacity. Organization leaders often have appropriate education, skills and work experience from their country of origin but, as newly arrived immigrants themselves, are often unfamil- iar with the technical and legal aspects of building organizations in the US context and with Western processes of non-profit management more broadly speaking (citation withheld). Furthermore, the competitive funding environment of the non-profit sector crowds out new and small organizations that are no match for well-established, nationally based organizations. Also, internal fragmentation and competition for resources amongst RCOs of different ethnic groups have also come as challenges (Zetter et al. 2005). Within the institutional network of refugee resettlement, RCOs are framed as

organizations that focus on the cultural and religious domains of refugee integra- tion, albeit also providing varied forms of support, while state-funded resettlement NGOs are considered to function primarily within the social-service domain (Nawyn 2006). Some scholars, however, consider RCOs to be more complex or- ganizational forms, pointing to their involvement in anti-poverty action (Piacentini 2012), activities of empowerment (Clarke 2014) and social-welfare as- sistance (Jenkins 1988). US-based RCOs have been found to provide a wide range of activities, including case management, crisis management, outreach events, targeted programming and advocacy, even as their capacity as volunteer-run organizations often cannot meet high demand from the community (citation

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withheld). Similarly, studies in Canada (Lacroix et al. 2015) and a nationally based surveyofRCOstheUK(Clarke2014)illustratearangeofactivities,includinglegal advice, health advice, campaigning and lobbying, housing services and education for children. Indeed, studies point to the functionality of RCOs, as well as those organizations run by migrants more broadly, in terms of practical, material sup- port, in tandem with social, cultural support (Jenkins 1988; Owusu 2000; Cordero- Guzmán 2005; Zetter et al. 2005), as well as in longer-term community building and capacity building (Piacentini 2012; Clarke 2014). Using new empirical data on RCOs and scholarly literature on resettlement NGOs as the framing context, this study examines differences in the scope of activities between state-contracted and state-detached organizations in the resettlement-policy domain.


Case Study

ThisresearchlooksatacasestudyoftheBhutaneseRCOsintheUS.Approximately 100000 men, women and children were forced to flee the Himalayan country of Bhutan in the early 1990s, due to political, ethnic and religious persecution con- ducted by the Bhutanese government that targeted a minority population (Rizal 2004). The Bhutanese government in 1985 enacted a policy: ‘One Nation, One People’, which sought to preserve Bhutan’s cultural identity by enforcing the Buddhist language, culture and beliefs upon the Nepali-speaking Hindu minority (Rizal 2004). The policy was executed with violence and fear, leading thousands to flee to neighbouring countries for safety. After nearly two decades in camps in Nepal, Bhutanese refugees started third-country resettlement in 2008, with about 85000 individuals moving to the US (Rizal 2004). This case is unique, because the Bhutanese refugee population, unlike any other refugee population, has a history of exemplary organizational capacity. In their two decades in refugee camps, Bhutanese refugees themselves, with funding and oversight from the Community Development Approach programme of the UN, administered all aspects of camp management(Muggah2005).Campcommittees,ledbyandcomposedofBhutanese refugees, were in charge of various functions, such as education or schools, wellness, delivery of food and supplies, health projects, justice programmes, cleanliness pro- grammes and relief assistance. School enrolment of refugee children was nearly 100 per cent, and literacy rates and health outcomes within the camps were comparable to surrounding communities in Nepal and India. Bhutanese refugees implemented camp management and community development so successfully that their camps came to be hailed as ‘model camps’ by the international UN community, as ‘exem- plary’ and a ‘model of best practice’ (Muggah 2005: 156). The unique background of Bhutanese refugees allows us to examine a singular case that presents a refugee population with a strong experience in organizing and community development that may be transferred upon resettlement. Bhutanese refugees’ demonstrated his- tory and experience of camp management and community development may have facilitated leadership capacity and organizational capacity, as well as social capital,

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relevant for forming organizations upon resettlement. Further, with a case-study approach that focuses solely on one group, culture and/or ethnicity are to some extent eliminated as differentially influencing community organizations. This case- study approach, combined with its nationwide scope, complements other place- based studies that examine organizations of different refugee and immigrant pop- ulations in specific locations (i.e. Majka and Mullan 2002; Bloemraad 2005; Lacroix et al. 2015).

Data Collection

Data includes four focus groups and interviews with 40key members of Bhutanese RCOs in 35US cities in 25 states (see Appendix 1). Selection of cities aimed to gain diversity, based on city-population size, number of Bhutanese arrivals in cities/states andacrossregions(north-east,south,mid-west,south-west,west).Moreinformants were from the mid-western region because the large majority of Bhutanese refugees had relocated to this region, particularly Ohio, at the time of data collection, which was 7 years after resettlement began. Organizations in the sample include both those that are not formally formed and those legally registered with 501(c)(3) non-profit statuswiththeInternalRevenueService.Toselectinformants,snowballrecruitment started with four primary contacts, who then drew from their social network to identify subsequent interviewees. With refugees considered hard to reach by researchers, snowball sampling is an appropriate tool (Maxwell 2005). Semi- structured interviews were conducted either in person and then audio-recorded and transcribed; or by telephone or video call and annotated by hand. Thirty-two interviews and focus groups were conducted in the summer of 2017 and other inter- views were conducted over a period of 2 years, as informing or confirmatory inter- views. Interviews were based on the interview protocol developed by Anucha et al. (2006) in Guide for Organizational Profile Interviews (see Appendix 1; Lacroix et al. 2015). In addition to providing a comprehensive framework for inquiring about organizations, this instrument formulated by Anucha et al. is particularly appropri- ate for this study because it has been previously applied to examining RCOs specif- ically,inafederallyfunded,large-scalestudyconductedin Canada(seeLacroixetal. 2015).DatareflectstheperspectivesofgrassrootsRCOs,collectedfrom‘informants’ who were key members of grassroots RCOs, although some informants played dual rolesorworked/volunteeredinboth typesoforganizationseitherinthepastoratthe time of interview. Informants were asked about activities of their own RCO both retrospectively and currently, and information and perspectives about services of resettlement NGOs for comparisons and contrasts.


I draw from a theory-guided approach (Gilgun 2015) to examine data. Specifically, using the qualitative coding program Atlas.ti, I conducted directed content analysis to examine themes and ideas shared by informants, following a more structured process that uses coding categories or key concepts identified a

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priori (Hsei and Shannon 2005). I used theoretical and empirical information from recent literature on refugee-resettlement policy to formulate sensitizing con- cepts for analysis. The initial level of analysis entailed coding for specific tasks and activities, and for organizational and perceived policy goals, as shared by inform- ants. Then, analysis entailed coding for similarities and contrasts between activ- ities and goals of resettlement NGOs and RCOs, involving double-coding, recoding and combining codes, based on emergent categories. Next, I analysed for broader themes, considering consistency across the informants and examining divergent perspectives. The final level of analysis entailed selecting quotes and/or stories to provide differing aspects of each theme. Empirical findings are presented in terms of ‘who, when, where, and how’ of the activities of RCOs: who they serve, and when, where and how they conduct activities. My engagement with RCOs, particularly Bhutanese RCOs, spans nearly 10

years as practitioner and academic, and my position as researcher does inform my analyses. As such, I framed analysis of interviews with on-the-ground perspec- tives as a researcher, applied with reflexivity, although reporter bias remains a potential limitation in this study. This analysis does not assess the quality and quantity of the activities. That is to say, I did not evaluate how often activities were conducted, how many people were served, or the effectiveness of and reception of the activities, for example. Before such an assessment, a first step is to illustrate and describe the range of activities conducted by RCOs, as the empirical aim of this study was to help inform theorizing about the broader institutional network of US resettlement policy. In the discussion of findings, I juxtapose the activities of state-contracted versus

state-detached non-profit organizations, but I do not draw on new empirical data about the latter. There has been extensive study and rich theorizing on public– private partnerships (Wolch 1990; Gray et al. 2015), including those on resettle- ment NGOs (see Nawyn 2006; Trudeau 2008; Shutes 2011; Connolly 2013; Darrow 2015; Simpson 2015). Thus, in this study, I make use of that literature to contextualize issues and then use primary empirical data collected from inform- ants in the RCOs of the Bhutanese community of the US.

Findings: ‘Who, When, Where and How’ of Support Activities for Refugees

The findings illustrate the scope of services of state-detached, refugee-run organ- izations based on empirical data from this study, set side by side with the scope of services of state-contracted, refugee-serving organizations as informed by existing literature.

Who: ‘Reaching People Who the Resettlement Agency Could Not Reach’

Job placement is the main policy goal of resettlement agencies (Connolly 2013; Darrow 2015) and thus refugees who are employable are prioritized in social services. Only ‘job-ready’ refugees—those who speak English well and have work experience or education—are enrolled into a fast-track job-placement

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programme that allows them access to job-readiness assistance and job-placement services. Refugees who are not employable may consequently receive less time and attention from resettlement NGOs’ caseworkers, as they struggle with a high caseload and aim to streamline services and be more cost-effective. In an insightful ethnographic study of resettlement NGOs in one city, Darrow (2015) illustrates how strategies, such as ‘sorting and cherry-picking clients’ and ‘creaming the most compliant clients’, become necessary for determining who gets services, for apply- ing eligibility requirements and for rationing scarce resources. In another study that surveyed directors of resettlement NGOs in a different city, Trudeau (2008) finds that ‘funding restricts who may receive services’. Such analyses of refugee- policy implementation by Darrow and Trudeau mirror those of social-welfare policy more broadly (Meyers et al. 1998). Social-welfare scholars have examined how policy engenders forms of social services that prioritize clients who are less resource- and time-intensive and more compliant with rules (Soss et al. 2011; Hasenfeld and Garrow 2012; Woolford and Nelund 2013; Abramovitz and Zelnick 2015). Informants described RCO activities as based primarily on who is in need, and

as targeting those who are often the most vulnerable subgroups within their com- munity. In describing the scope of activities in terms of whom they serve, inform- ants shared that RCOs target under-served subgroups within their community, such as those who are elderly, do not speak English or cannot read and write at all, and thus are having a more difficult time—precisely those who are not ‘job-ready’. One informant shared: ‘Our organization shared information to the people who the resettlement agency could not reach’ (RCO leader: Boise, Idaho). Another informant expressed:

Looking for a job—our organization did not work in that field. That was the job of the resettlement agency . . .. That goal is not for our organization; that is for the resettlement agency. [We focus]especially on the illiterate people who cannot read the signs, the sign boards, and other fliers. And so these are the people this organ- ization helps (RCO leader: Dallas, Texas).

Informants shared that elderly community members in particular were having a difficult time in transitioning, and events, programmes and support for them were a priority for RCOs. Older adults found it more difficult to learn English and cultural norms compared with younger community members, many of whom were RCO volunteer-workers, who received English training and some education and work experience while in the camps:

For the young generation, they don’t need help, they go for job interview, [they can do] anything. But those who don’t know how to speak English, they need help. A lot of people, like me, we help the older people and disabled who do not do things by themselves (RCO leader: Baltimore, Maryland).

Another informant explained that, while many are able to adjust well, the most isolated community members find it difficult to reconcile expectations with

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realities upon resettlement: ‘That’s why we are . . . working for those people who are really in need’ (RCO leader: Akron, Ohio).

When: ‘Our Help Is More Sustainable, More Permanent Kind of Help, as Far as There is a Need, but the Government is for a Fixed Period of Time’

The Reception and Placement programme of the US ORR, which provides tran- sition assistance for newly arrived refugees, ends 30 days after arrival, and job- placement and case-management services end after 8 months. After these time limits, refugees cannot access social services from resettlement NGOs. Thus, they are no longer eligible for services once the initial transition period has expired. Responding to this specific gap in services, grassroots RCOs are not restricted

to time limits and they can provide assistance at any time, according to inform- ants. A majority of the informants in the sample made at least one mention of the lack of time limits in describing their organizations’ activities, and several stressed this as a main difference between their own organization and the resettlement NGOs. Time limits in service provision emerged from the data as a main theme that characterized RCOs’ activities, as shared by two informants:

Our helpis more sustainable,more permanent kindof help, asfar thereis a need. But the government is for a fixed period of time. The government policy is fixed at a particular period of time, where our local organization support is . . .very durable and permanent. We see the problem in the community, we discuss and we help for a long time. But the government’s box is focused on the newly arrival people, for certain months they help and then they leave, because the government cannot sup- port every individual who had been resettled since centuries. That is why there is a demarcation, there is a border (RCO leader: Dallas, Texas).

Our goals are long term goal and their goals are short term. Our goal is to establish the community organization which is going to help our people in a long way for our generations to come, you know (RCO leader: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania).

He questioned a one-size-fits-all time limit, explaining that the amount of time needed for adjustment in fact varies: ‘Sometimes they overcome the challenges very soon, but most families still have problems for 5 years, like finding a job, developing skills, you know.’ Another informant stated simply: ‘Once . . . 90 [days] are gone, they just leave them alone’ (RCO leader: Colorado Springs, Colorado). The difference between resettlement NGOs and RCOs was indeed clear in terms

of the temporal aspect for several informants:

The main goal of the resettlement agency is to resettle them, have an apartment for them, put them in the apartment, and probably a job, put them in job, and just leave it. So it is different—the resettlement agency just resettles; gives them some job, finished; after six-to-eight months, finished. The Bhutanese organization goal is different. [We] serve them for a long time until they are self-sufficient. The goal was for until the community is there (RCO leader: Tucson, Arizona).

Another informant agreed: ‘With the receiving agencies, mainly, I think their main timeframe to help the people would be a few months’ (RCO leader: Syracuse,

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New York). In contrast: ‘We don’t stop anywhere in between. We provide the same benefits and same help to everyone, be the new ones or existing people’, referring to newly arrived refugees and those who arrived earlier than 8 months. ‘It’s an ongoing process,’ he added.

Where: ‘Driving Is Compulsory’

For immigrant communities specifically, spatial access to social services is a par- ticularly crucial aspect of the receiving context and, thus, the processes of immi- grant integration (Roth and Allard 2016). Social-policy scholars have problematized access to services, noting that there is a mismatch between geog- raphy of needs and geography of social services (Allard 2008), including those provided by immigrant-serving organizations (Roth and Allard 2016). Few non- profit service organizations are located in high-poverty, high-needs neighbour- hoods. In other words, the poorest neighbourhoods are also those with least access to much-needed social services. Spatial detachment from service providers can limit access to information about services, increase transportation costs and bur- dens, and hamper familiarity with and trust in service providers (Allard 2008). Reflecting such spatial inaccessibility, resettlement NGOs in cities are typically

headquartered in business or commercial areas. Refugee families in cities, mean- while, are generally placed into low-income residential areas that are often situated farther away from those central commercial locations, because federal funding for refugees’ housing is limited. Furthermore, resettlement NGOs are restricted by policy from providing transportation services, according to a survey of refugee- serving non-profit organizations in Minnesota (Trudeau 2008). Distance from resettlement NGOs and the lack of transportation services may thus arise as a pressing problem for newly resettled refugees. Perhaps in response to these gaps in service, several informants described ac-

cess, transportation and proximity to community as crucial considerations for RCOs:

Driving is compulsory . . .. We should drive to reach people and to take them to these different offices. If we don’t have driving skills, or don’t have license, or don’t have a

vehicle, then how can we do it? (RCO leader: Buffalo, New York).

Another informant specified transportation as critical, especially for those newly arrived:

Many people who were not driving, and the few of us who were driving were helping [newly arrived refugees], even going to shopping or going to nearby health centers and all these kinds of things (RCO leader: Louisville, Kentucky).

RCOs provided transportation not only for individualized case management, but also for outreach and targeted programmes. In one north-eastern city, the RCO arranged transportation for participants of their 2-day outreach event

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targeting youth. Similarly, in another city in the mid-west, the RCO offered trans- portation to students to their weekly citizenship classes. Informants shared that, concerning ‘who’ is served (as discussed above),

RCO activities are intended to reach precisely those community members who are more isolated and less mobile, such as those who are elderly, do not speak English or are having difficulty with transition. Community meetings and outreach events, as well as English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) and citi- zenship classes, according to informants, were held in the common area or lobby of apartment complexes where refugee communities reside or in parks, libraries and other public areas located in close proximity to residences of refugee communities. Housing was set up for newly arrived refugees by the resettlement NGOs and refugees were often placed in low-income housing or apartments because of limited resources, thus putting refugees in close prox- imity to each other. This was not always the case, however, and some refugee families were placed into residential locations that were far from the main hub of the community and thus the organization. One informant discussed provid- ing transportation as particularly challenging when community members lived far away, but then went on to explain how he can draw on the community networks and contact with other volunteer-workers to assist:

Sometimes we are asked to go somewhere, you know, and I don’t have money to buy gas for my car, so I cannot . . .. If I have to travel 70 miles and get something, I don’t, because 70 miles cost me money. If it was 10 miles I would manage, you know. [And so] for example, two of us might get together . . .. So, what we do is we share, we call, ‘. . . can you please help with this?’ (RCO leader: San Antonio, Texas).

How: ‘The Doing—the Way of Doing—Maybe Is Where the Difference Is’

Existing literature has described and problematized how some restrictive, resource-lacking policy environments provide service that is procedural, techno- cratic, instrumental and discretionary. Some social-welfare scholars have argued that modes of public management of the human-services domain have become managerial and businesslike (Meyers et al. 1998; Woolford and Nelund 2013). Bottom-line outcomes are primarily economic, while interactions focus on proc- essing claims and rationing scarce resources (Abramovitz and Zelnick 2015). Transactions between service providers and clients have become instrumental and routinized, rather than transformational and meaningful (Meyers et al. 1998). In contrast, informants described RCOs’ activities as ‘personal’, ‘informal’ and community-based. The overarching aim of both resettlement NGOs and RCOs is to assist refugees, but one informant succinctly stated that ‘the doing—the way of doing—maybe is where the difference is’. ‘Personal’: According to informants, RCO service provision was personal and

rooted in concern for the community:

The purpose of the informal organization was to let our people, my community, to personally feel that we care about them. We care about our family, we care about

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our kids. We are, you know, different from the native people who are already here

. . .. So, the only way we can take that challenge is being together, you know, sharing our concerns, finding a way out. How we can help each other. How we can let our kids, our elderly parents, you know, know that we care about them. They care about us, you know (RCO leader: San Antonio, Texas).

The informant further explained how roles of RCO worker-volunteers blur with their roles and commitments as members of the community. Professional workers have a clear delineation in terms of work hours but, as an RCO worker-volunteer, this informant simply could not clock out and was never really off duty. If some- one was stranded somewhere and called him in the middle of the night, he explained that he would not be able to deny such an urgent request for help. He said:

Not [just] dual, but multiple roles, I have to say. As a dad, as a son, as a community member, you know, as an employee. So we have to have multiple roles.

Another informant shared that he felt connected to those he serves:

When you deal with people every day, you’ll feel. I can feel because I’m in the same community, so I know how they feel, I know how my parents feel, I know how these senior people in the community feel about the environment. So they are not really happy from the inner core of their heart . . .. So, you know, when you deal with them every day, you will kinda feel the frustrations they have (RCO leader: Moline, Illinois).

Furthermore, RCOs seemed intertwined with the communities they served, as reflected in the account of one informant who used the term ‘community’ to refer to the RCO when describing the earliest phases of his organization:

So people, the community, realized the need of a community because we heard that in other states, they have found community and the community organizations were good for people. So we decided, why not we have a community (RCO leader: Fargo, North Dakota).

The dual role as community member and volunteer-worker within the commu- nity organization also comes with challenges, informants shared:

So leadership, being a leader means . . . they cannot engage in all those community activities for all the time, because they need to have their own family obligations, financial projects for themselves. So that was pretty tough (RCO leader: Concord, New Hampshire).

Another concurred: ‘We do our jobs. We have our family. We have our limi- tations, you know.’ And he went on to share how the community relied on RCO volunteer-workers like him:

They have some expectation which I may not be able to fulfill 100% of their expect- ations, but if I can atleast fulfill some of their expectations,you know, they won’t get

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frustrated. They won’t think they don’t have social support (RCO leader: San

Antonio, Texas).

‘Informal’ and community-based: Resettlement NGOs are disincentivized or restricted by policy from adopting non-standard approaches to service provision (Trudeau 2008). As an example, a study of non-profit organizations serving refugees inonemajorUS city revealed thatresettlement NGOs wererestricted bypolicy from offering non-traditional modes of service delivery, specifically one-to-one preventa- tive health education programmes; driving refugees or providing transportation was alsonotapermittedservice(Trudeau2008).Suchrestrictionsseemcounter-intuitive, because such non-traditional approaches can be those very approaches that are responsive to the unique needs of displaced populations, and thus effective. RCOs’ case-management activities, as described by informants, were pro-

vided in informal, community-based ways. Without an office, interviewees described how RCOs’ volunteer caseworkers conducted needs assessments, health screenings and other case-management activities in private homes of service recipients or of the RCO volunteer-workers, or over the telephone, illustrating the informality and flexibility of assistance, as detailed in two informants’ accounts:

Sometimes there were three to four families sitting in my sitting room when I got back from college (RCO leader: Moline, Illinois).

We gave them our numbers, phone numbers of the people working in the executive committee and the sub-committees. So, the people, when they needed help, they would call the phone numbers and whoever were available, they responded to the people and gave them the direction (RCO leader: Boise, Idaho).

Residential arrangements for resettled refugees, as discussed above, allowed easier, more convenient communication and interaction amongst the refugees, and provided accessibility for outreach activities, information sharing and educa- tion that were community-based. RCO worker-volunteers also used email lists and social media to reach community members. Community-based, informal as- sistance was also described in terms of cultural sensitivity or appropriateness. Such access to the community is often not available to professional social-services organizations: ‘ Sometimes the resettlement agency could not pass messages to everyone at a

time so they would pass information through us’ (RCO leader: Boise, Idaho). One informant discussed community-based, informal assistance in terms of

cultural sensitivity or appropriateness:

Resettlement agencies, sometimes, they don’t have the cultural competence kind of training for their staff. So, if a staff is not culturally competent to handle that . . . their purpose is not met (RCO leader: San Antonio, Texas).

In contrast, informants described the ways in which RCO activities and programmes are culturally and linguistically appropriate. For example, ESL

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and citizenship classes use teaching materials and methods that are tailored specifically not only for non-English speakers, but also for those do not read or write even in their native language, many of whom are elderly. RCOs’ customized approaches to teaching are in contrast to standard ESL classes provided by resettlement agencies, which apply a more universal approach rather than targeting a specific refugee group. As organizations formed out of the same cultural and ethnic community, RCOs also have the unique cap- ability to provide critical and much-needed refugee services, such as transla- tion and interpretation.

Concluding Discussion

Discussions in this article have been framed in terms of refugee policy that enacts a decentralized, privatized institutional structure and its economics-oriented prac- tice modalities of neoliberal governmentality. Responsive service provision had been the intent of such policy structures; the transfer of authority to local levels— to subnational governments and then to resettlement NGOs of the third sector— had been envisioned as enabling policy implementation that was more efficient, flexible and tailored to local needs. Over time, however, existing studies, as discussed above, have illustrated how

regulatory policy mechanisms have instead tied the hands of resettlement NGOs. They manifest instead as a ‘shadow state’ that enacts the economics-oriented priorities of the state in relation to resettled refugees as subject. Thus, policy outcomes run counter to the aims of effective service provision, and to commit- ments to facilitate social and economic wellbeing of refugees as new members of the national community. Given problematic policy outcomes and ensuing gaps in services, RCOs aim

to fill in the gaps left agape by policy, as posited by findings from this study. RCOs have been largely unaccounted for as an institutional actor in analyses of refugee policy. Because it is not state-contracted and thus considered informal, the RCO is often outside the field of vision of policy scholarship. RCOs are viewed as operating outside the bounds of policy. But findings here argue that RCOs’ activities are in direct response to constraints of refugee policy. These findings are reflective of the capacity of RCOs, although celebrating the suc- cessful ‘self-help’ and ‘social capital’ of RCOs can obscure broader structural issues and turn attention away from service gaps and inequities produced by policy. I argue that the expanded scope of services of RCOs illustrated here not only

depicts RCOs’ functions for refugee communities, but also helps in theorizing about the shadow state, or the non-profit sector as state-contracted institutional actors, that enacts neoliberal governance in the refugee-resettlement domain in the US. The devolution of social responsibilities goes not only from state to the shadow state, but extends further to the state-detached informal sector: the ‘in- formal’, ‘unofficial’ ‘quasi’-organizations of refugee communities in these most

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peripheral levels at the grassroots. That is, pressure is exerted further downward. The manifestations of neoliberal governance, albeit indirect, do not end with state- funded organizations in the private non-profit sector that implement policy. RCOs take on some of the roles relinquished by their larger counterparts and aim to take on those roles as a safety net for the restructured and retrenched welfare state. Scholars have illustrated how economics-focused policy reforms have problematized the activation of citizens in welfare services (Verhoeven and Bochove 2018) and my findings similarly posit how state responsibilities and functions are, similarly, passed on to individual volunteer-workers in RCOs that operate with no resources or infrastructure. RCOs expand the scope of their activities, insofar as state-funded organizations limit theirs as they respond and conform to demands of the state. Issues of equity and social justice are thus raised, as community-based

grassroots organizations emerging out of refugee communities aim to assume important functions of the state, and pursue the mandates of federal resettle- ment policy, without adequate resources and legitimacy. Theoretical propo- sitions in this study help to open new lines of inquiry that consider in more detail the tripartite relationship between the state, state-contracted/funded NGOs and state-detached organizational entities of the informal sector, and the ways in which such relationships manifest on the ground and their consequences. Finally, as an area for future research within refugee studies, this study joins other scholars in calling for a rethinking of conventional social-service provision and pointing to participatory approaches with refu- gees and immigrants (Smith 2013; Strokosch and Osborne 2016; Cools et al. 2017; Easton-Calabria and Pincock 2018) and for participatory governance more broadly (Whitehead 2007; Somerville 2011). In their Glasgow-based study, Strokosch and Osborne (2016) find that having asylum seekers as co-producers of public social services at the operational level can facilitate integration and social inclusion. A study of Roma migrants in Manchester, meanwhile, highlights the importance of meaningful engagement between service providers and migrants, especially in increasingly differentiated and diverse societies (Cools et al. 2017). Similarly, refugees in refugee camps in Nepal (Muggah 2005) and Uganda and Kenya (Easton-Calabria and Pincock 2018) have been illustrative as active participants in successful camp man- agement and in improving the quality of life of refugees while in exile and transition. With implications for this body of literature, my findings illustrate US-based RCOs with organizational capability and responsive assistance be- yond the constraints of policy, thus posing them as potential partners for resettlement NGOs and governmental entities in service delivery and decision-making, and as actors in their own right. Findings thus warrant attention, in research as well as policy and programming, to meaningful participation of RCOs and refugee communities in service provision and governance.

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Appendix 1

City and state of RCO leaders/informant

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