Asylee Info Line Bites the Dust

by Jason Dzubow on December 31, 2012

in Asylees and Refugees

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Until recently, if you were granted asylum in the United States,  you could call the National Asylee Information and Referral Line, a toll-free number, where you could speak to someone about benefits potentially available to you (such as food stamps, Pell Grants, medical assistance, etc.). For people granted asylum through the Asylum Offices, the toll-free number was–and still is–listed on the approval notice.

However, as of December 28, 2012, the Info Line is kaput. But have no fear–asylees can still learn about benefits (assuming there are benefits after we fall off the fiscal cliff). Visit the Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement, Benefits page on the internet.

A refugee tries to navigate the ORR website.

A refugee tries to navigate the ORR website.

Unfortunately, the ORR website is not so easy to use. Admittedly, I am fairly inept with a computer, and so many people might have an easier time with this than me. But it really does seem confusing.

For one thing, the site directs the user to a map of the U.S., where she can click on her state to find organizations that assist with benefits. The organizations that receive ORR grant money are listed, as are state coordinators and directors. The problem is, I cannot tell who to contact to ask questions about benefits. If there is an NGO or ORR employee who helps asylees learn about benefits, this should be made more explicit.

There is a helpful fact sheet available in English and eight other languages, which explains certain benefits, such as the Employment Authorization Document, the Refugee Travel Document, and how asylees can obtain their green cards. But this does not help with medical benefits, food stamps, English language programs, and the like.

I understand that we live in an era of budget cuts and looming fiscal apocalypse, and I guess that the Info Line was discontinued in order to save money. But I do not see why it should cost much money to make the ORR website simpler to use. In that way, asylees will more easily obtain the services they need, and more quickly become self sufficient. This benefits the asylees, of course, but it will also save money for the government.

I hope that the Office of Refugee Resettlement plans to make its website more user-friendly. Given that ORR provides grants to implementing agencies, perhaps it could also require the local agencies to follow an easy-to-use model website for providing localized information to asylees. A dedicated, accessible website will go a long way towards replacing the telephone Info Line and towards helping asylees begin to adjust to their new life in the United States.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bonnie Kern, PhD December 31, 2012 at 11:37 am

You make a good point. I would add to it, though, that access to the internet on a computer (not a phone) where these sites are best seen and, more saliently, the ability to read and fully comprehend can be major hurdles for asylum-seekers and asylees. I doubt the pennies saved will be worth the potential human consequences.

Jason Dzubow January 2, 2013 at 10:30 am

Of Of course you are correct, though I fear that if anything, we will see more and more cuts in services to refugees and all other needy people.

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