Challenge, opportunity and complexity: immigration in the US and Europe

Florence universities host international conference

Alexis Garcia
March 12, 2009

Have you ever walked the streets of Florence and actually looked at every person that you pass? Have you wondered why Italy, a country so focused on and proud of its history, art and culture, is changing before our very eyes? Italy is experiencing a new renaissance as it becomes a melting pot of many different people and cultures. People immigrate to Italy from various countries in the EU, Asia, and Africa, and for various reasons. They bring to their adopted country different foods, fashions, customs and literature. Many immigrants are also survivors of war, famine, dire poverty and political unrest.


In some Italian schools, the children of immigrants are the majority in the classroom, and the numbers are increasing every day. With Italy's birthrate among nationals so low, many Italians worry that immigrants will outnumber them. At the same time, the people of Italy have benefited from the immigrants in the job market, filling gaps in the Italian work force, especially in menial and unskilled labor. Italians worry that violent incidents such as the Paris riots of 2005, which involved the immigrant population, could be repeated as the numbers of immigrants continue to populate their cities, especially in this time of economic crisis, when resources and jobs are limited.


This is a moment of challenge, opportunity and complexity. Italy faces new and complex challenges for dealing with the influx of immigrants, from establishing guidelines to promote inclusion to instilling a sense of pride in the newcomers' adopted home. Further, the future of the Italy's national immigration policy is still uncertain. The general public needs trustworthy information and must be included in debate about the direction policy will take.


As the example of Florence in particular and Italy in general suggests, immigration is both a global and local issue, with cities and communities, nations and regions dealing with different aspects of the phenomenon. For this reason, Syracuse University in Florence, New York University, the University of Florence and the European University Institute have committed two days to public discussion of immigration.


The conference, scheduled for March 23-24, is free and open to the public. To be held on the NYU Florence campus (March 23) and Palazzo Vecchio (March 24), it will feature policy makers, scholars and practitioners expert on the issues affecting immigration, with perspectives from different countries that shed light on immigration's impact on politics, economics, health care, social life, and education.


Among the program's highlights, speakers from New York University will participate in ‘The Immigrant and the City', discussing the impact of immigration in the United States and Europe on education and the job market. On Tuesday, speakers from Syracuse University will discuss immigration policies, looking at questions relating to Italy's citizenship laws and giving voice to immigrants in local and national issues.


In commenting on the goals of this public event, Syracuse University in Florence professor and co-organizer of the conference, Matteo Duni, states that its purpose is ‘to show how migration is one of the biggest challenges in Europe, and, in turn, of world globalization. It is a permanent phenomenon and a big challenge, but also one that provides a great opportunity.'


Ellyn Toscano, director of Villa La Pietra and La Pietra Policy Dialogues at NYU, underlines the importance of developing transatlantic dialogue on immigration: ‘Cities are one place where the dynamics of immigration are felt on a human scale. They are a good starting point for understanding the ways immigration is reshaping society and for exchanging ideas on the policy approaches developed to respond to the challenges of integrating immigrant populations on the ground.' Toscano notes, ‘We are all living in more complex urban environments on both sides of the Atlantic. The combined experiences and expertise of American and European scholars, policy makers and practitioners can contribute to developing more creative policy approaches moving forward. This conference, co-organized by American and European universities in the extraordinarily rich academic community of Florence, is an important step down that path'.





*Monday, March 23, 2009-The Immigrant and the City: Immigration and its Impact

on Municipalities


Villa La Pietra, via Bolognese, 120


9:15-10:30         Welcome, introductory panel and remarks

11:00                Panel: Immigration Integration through Education

14:00                Panel: Immigrant Integration through the Labor Market

16:00                Roundtable discussion

18:30                Keynote address, Philippe Fragues, director, Migration Programme, European University Institute


**Tuesday, March 24-2009: Migration in Europe: Rights, Participation, and Identity


Palazzo Vecchio, Salone de' Dugento, Piazza della Signoria


9:00                  Institutional addresses

10:00                Opening lecture

11:00                Migration and Rights: A Comparative European View

11:45                Political Participation and Representation of Migrants in Europe

14:00                Migrant Identities and Policy Challenges

16:00                Immigrazione: locale, nazionale, sovranazionale, Il punto di vista della societa civile (in Italian)


*Registration is required for Monday, March 23 sessions; call 0555007212 or 0555031321 or email

**Open admission on Tuesday, March 24




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