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The Immigrant and the City: Immigration and its Impact on Municipalities
 
The Immigrant and the City: Immigration and its Impact on Municipalities
A compilation by NYU Florence students Rachael Arrott, Erica Kahen, Abe Fried-Tanzer, Negin Hadaghian and John Bottica
La Pietra Dialogues
April 24, 2009

We were happy to participate in the Transatlantic Dialogue on Migration that took place on March 23-24. The conference raised many important and interesting questions on this crucial issue of public policy debate.

In the introductory panel Professors Cristina Rodriguez (NYU) and Alessandro Simoni (University of Florence) clearly laid out the juridical framing for the conference, exploring the ‘disconnect’ between national and local immigration policy and the issues that are most important in the U.S. and the Italian context. Cristina Rodriguez introduced the problem of coordination between federal and sub-federal systems in dealing with immigration. While federal legislation is supposed to exercise jurisdiction over immigration policy, it is important that laws provide enough flexibility so that different localities can adapt them to their particular needs. Alessandro Simoni spoke about the way this disconnect is manifest in the Italian case, suggesting Italy too often opts for short term solutions at the local level, while national political leaders engage in an unrealistic and heavily ideological discourse that prevents any effective long term planning.

The scholars were joined by panelists from the municipality of Reggio Emilia who shared their experience on the ground. Mayor Graziano Delrio of Reggio Emilia, a city at the cutting edge of developments, shared some of his observations about the problems surrounding the integration of immigrants in his city, the solutions his team has implemented at the local level and the way they interact with official government policy. He believes a mayor must first approach immigration through city planning and education.

The discussion then moved to two areas where immigrant integration is most immediate: the education system and labor market.

Professor Marcelo Suárez Orozco from NYU underlined how important education will increasingly become in allowing societies to metabolize the growing numbers of culturally different immigrant groups - emphasizing that this is a world wide phenomena - and Professor Maurice Crul from University of Amsterdam presented data on what factors best favor the in¬tegration of immigrant pupils in Europe. Carla Rinaldi and Deanna Margini, educational specialists at Reggio Children in Reggio Emilia, spoke about how schools in Reggio have tried to adopt an open multicultural curriculum in order to prepare all children – immigrant and Italian - for a future in an increasingly multicultural society and discussed some of the challenges teachers face in their classrooms.

In the labor market panel Professor Muzaffar Chishti (NYU) spoke about immigration law, the ways it is often very different from practices on the ground, and offered proposals for reform. Some of the data he presented was surprising, especially the percentage of immigrants who work in professions that underutilize their skills. He cited the example of foreign trained doctors driving cabs and nurses becoming nannies and emphasized that society would benefit overall if immigrants were able to contribute to the labor market at their skill level. Maurizio Ambrosini talked about how different regions in Italy have to approach the problem of the labor market integration of immigrants differently based on local economic needs and how national policy is ill-equipped to handle these subtle local differences. Immigration policy should therefore be flexible and perhaps handled at the regional level.

Many questions were raised in the roundtable. Chair Professor Christina Rodriguez did an excellent job drawing all the strands of debate together and framing the comparative discussion. One interesting comparative reflection that emerged was how controversy is focused on different issues on both sides of the Atlantic: whereas amnesty is the ‘word that can’t be spoken’ in the American case, in Europe it is the word ‘demography’. The European concern over demography was highlighted by Professor Phillip Fargues’s keynote speech later in the day in which he empirically charted the demographic shifts taking place in Europe and the United States due to immigration and what this might mean for the future. Europeans, they all seemed to argue, have difficulty confronting the demographic reality that underlies contemporary immigration, and this distorts the immigration debate. Interesting questions raised during the roundtable, that remained open: Is education enough to integrate immigrants, or is a more comprehensive policy approach necessary? How can we arrive there?

 
 
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