How are refugees’ experiences shaped by language and policy?

In December we published Refugee Resettlement in the United States edited by Emily M. Feuerherm and Vaidehi Ramanathan. In this post, Emily introduces the main themes of the book and examines the discourse of refugee resettlement in the US.

The plight of refugees and asylum seekers has been making headlines for the past couple of years. In the summer of 2014, the unprecedented number of unaccompanied Central American minors crossing the Southern US border reignited the moral panic about ‘illegal’ immigration and the validity of asylum cases. In 2015, images and stories of Syrian refugees fleeing a violent war in their home country was juxtaposed against receiving countries’ attitudes towards this vulnerable, displaced population.

Refugee Resettlement in the United StatesThe US is geographically removed from many of the effects of the wars in the Middle East, and so has seen fewer refugees and asylum seekers from this region than Europe has over the past year. Nevertheless, the recent terrorist attacks in Paris pushed US politicians and policy makers to redouble their concern over borders and migrants, particularly focusing on refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries. Now, politicians are calling for a ban (or at least more stringent background checks) on refugees being accepted from the Middle East, while at the same time there is a surge in raids identifying and deporting Central Americans seeking asylum in the US.

With all of these discourses around refugee resettlement, this volume uncovers and critically analyzes the language, policies and pedagogies that contextualize refugees’ experiences in the US. The volume brings together researchers from several fields within the social and educational sciences with original research on the state of refugees in the US. Although several of the chapters are situated in specific geographical locations, their insights elucidate the contested nature of the language, policies, and pedagogies that position refugees and asylum seekers within (and outside of) our society.

The language around refugeehood is explored in several contexts in this volume: the use of refugee, alien and immigrant in US media compared to the Immigration and Nationality Act (chapter 2); the various ways that the word refugee is appropriated or rejected by populations to which it is ascribed (chapter 3); and the discursive construction of refugees used by organizations responsible for their resettlement (chapter 9). Educational policies are also discussed at many scales: national and state educational policies directed specifically to refugees (chapter 4); higher education policies meant to support refugee background students (chapter 7); and local classroom policies in an elementary school English Language Development class (chapter 8). The chapters on pedagogies of teaching refugee adults highlights the need for building upon refugees’ strengths at the programmatic (chapter 5) and individual levels (chapter 10), as well as critically examining refugees’ “need” for English (chapter 6).

Ramanathan titlesYou can find more information about the book on our website. You might also be interested in Vaidehi’s other books on refugees: Language Policies and (Dis)Citizenship and Language, Immigration and Naturalization.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: