Professor Maurizio Ambrosini underlined the shift in both the perception and dynamics of immigration that have accompanied the transition of Italy from a country of emigration to a country of immigration over the last few decades. Since immigration began to Italy in the 1970s, it has been considered a transitory and short-term phenomenon, without any grounding in the domestic labor market. Most thought the immigrants arriving on Italian shores were transiting towards other European countries. However, these migrants have slowly taken root in the Italian labor market and Italian society, undergoing a deeper and more permanent process of integration. The government has tried to follow these developments on the ground, by formalizing immigration and integration policies that address what is a defacto situation. Today Italy has a highly complex and mature immigrant presence in the labor market, to the point where clear ethnic specialization has developed in certain economic sectors. The anti-immigrant rhetoric so prevalent in public discourse - that Italy is trying to defend itself from an ‘immigrant invasion’ - does not match reality: Immigrants are an integral part of the Italian economy and society and the Italian government, despite sometimes fueling anti-immigrant sentiment, has actually favored their presence (granting 6 amnesties in 20 years).
These developments are not specific to Italy, but are rather part of, according to Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Professor and Co-Director of the Immigration Studies program at NYU, larger more persistent global trends that have made migration one of the main motors of the global economy and will only increase in the future. Suárez-Orozco attempted to remove the veil from the global anti-immigrant discourse, which feeds on people’s fears and assumes that immigration flows have grown, primarily to Europe and North America, in an uncontrolled and erratic manner. In fact, global migration trends have remained remarkably stable at approximately 3% of the total global population over the last century. The main areas affected by migration, moreover, are Asia and Africa, not Europe and the United States. Over the last years, Italy has joined the ranks of countries ‘addicted to irregular labour’, according to Suárez-Orozco. Migration flows are highly dependent on global economic integration and, as he underlined, “you can’t have economic integration without labor market integration”. The transformation that has taken place in the US, making many major American cities majority-minority areas, will likely happen over the next 50 years in Italy given current demographic trends. This reality will continue to generate the feelings of malaise that often accompany the migration experience.
Finally, Carola Suárez-Orozco, Professor and Co-Director of the Immigration Studies program at NYU, brought the discussion down to the micro-level in her talk on the psychology of migration and the family. She reminded us that we must always keep in mind the effects these global flows have on people, especially children. Migration is not just a global dynamic, and migrants are not just numbers, they are actual fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, actual families who leave behind their country of origin, most often in search of a better life. Carola Suárez-Orozco estimates that 1 billion people in the world are affected by global migration and the separations that result from it. In a study she carried out on immigrant children in the cities of Boston and San Francisco she found that up to 75% of immigrant children had been separated from at least one parent at one point or another during their migration experience. She movingly shared the experience of suffering, longing and regret, but also the resilience of these children, culled from her interviews, in their own voices.
In a vibrant closing discussion with the audience, the speakers emphasized the importance of family migration in order to limit the negative effects of these separations and the importance for host governments to provide a path to citizenship so that immigrants have an incentive to positively integrate into the social and cultural life of their new countries. The problem of integration too often extends to the second generation; in fact, the integration crisis is often felt most acutely there. It is critical to eliminate the negative messages that make immigrants, especially of the second generation who are most often citizens, feel unwelcome and contribute to an underlying identity crisis. Social services, more than the police, need to be an integral part of any immigration policy strategy.