By Giovanni Dubon
Enzo Bianco, an Italian Minister of the Interior, stated “legal immigration that is integrated into the economy and social fabric…is a precious resource” while a bulletin posted by an apartment rental agency in Parma, Italy read “We don’t work with immigrants of color” (Calavita 1). The past twenty years has seen an increase of immigrants—both legal and illegal—into Italy, a nation that has resisted social and cultural changes for centuries. Since the 1980’s, Italy has had to adopt new measures to accommodate immigrants from Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, and Asia. The European Union has stressed that integration of immigrants into Italy and other European countries is a priority, they define integration as “the process of becoming an accepted part of a foreign society and of accepting that society, based on the principles of equality, human rights, diversity and inclusion” (Süssmuth & Weidenfeld XIV). However, the laws that have been set are not performing the job they were intended to do. Recent events in Libya and Tunisia have put further pressure on the Italian immigration issue. Instead of fostering integration, the current laws are further marginalizing and excluding both legal and illegal immigrants from society. The new influx of immigrants has left Italians scrambling to find an effective and efficient way to integrate these immigrants into their culture and society (Calavita 11). Since January, over 25,000 illegal immigrants have entered through southern Italy trying to escape the Northern Africa turmoil. Italy has asked the European Union for financial assistance in trying to document and move immigrants to other European nations. It has also requested that other European countries, particularly France, assist with hosting the mostly French-speaking Tunisian population, yet most have not offered significant assistance. France has agreed to assist Italian sea and air patrols to enforce accords set forth between Italy and Tunisia, a former French colony, yet has set up detainment points in train stations along the French Riviera to check legal documentation from those coming from Italy. The large influx of people is, therefore, left almost entirely to the Italian government (Geddes 149). The central question that needs to be answered is “what would be the best strategy the Italian government could pursue order to successfully integrate non-European Union immigrants, in order to avoid racism and marginalization of illegal immigrants?”
Strengthening and reforming the current immigration laws would not only integrate immigrants into society, but also help the government combat irregular immigration. The first law regarding immigration, la legge Foschi, came into effect in 1986 promising equal opportunity in employment for all legal immigrants and their family, while guaranteeing the right to retain their cultural identity, to attend school and the to use social services (Einaudi 129). By 1989, however, La Lega Nord, a northern Italy based political party with strong Italian nationalism sentiments, began gaining seats in parliament and introducing bills to limit immigration and to discourage immigrants from entering the country (Einaudi 133). The argument that strengthening and reforming existing laws can fix the immigration problem cannot be true. Existing laws and political parties, like Lega Nord, illustrate how volatile and polarized the Italian national government has become regarding this issue. If the national government is not capable of finding practical and effective ways to integrate immigrants, then the responsibility and power to do so should be given to the local governments. Local governments have better capabilities to integrate immigrants because they can implement housing policies, promote intercultural activities, and integrate immigrants into the local political sphere.
Scholars around the world have been debating how to manage immigration flows with solutions that range from stopping immigrants from entering the country to regulating immigration population already in the country. This debate is especially volatile in Europe. National governments fail in their attempt to implement programs because they fear political repercussions in successive elections. In Italy, where strong national and cultural identity have kept out foreign cultures and ideas, the likelihood the federal government will implement policies other than exclusion of immigrants is very slim (Lumley & Foot 64-65). It is therefore very important to provide new outlooks to solve and actually follow the integration of immigrants’ goals set by the European Union. In the last decade, a new approach, which has not been discussed at full length, is one that would require local governments to manage their own integration programs. Scholar Tiziana Caponio most concretely presents this new outlook in her research; “The city…can play a more or less crucial role in integrating immigrants into the Italian society” (Caponio 274). This model can and should be followed for a successful integration program.
The initial service that any local government would provide to newly arrived immigrants is housing. In providing housing, local governments allow immigrants to begin the integration process by helping them remain in the country and settle in the particular city. In 1989, for example, the city of Bologna began a housing orientation and counseling service for immigrant workers called Riodino e programmazione dell’assistenza, or reordering assistance program, for those who had been living outdoors or in cars in hopes of trying to get them off the streets and into housing projects (Caponio 133). In providing these social programs, regional governments allow immigrants to feel safer and more welcomed in Italian cities. Another housing program was launched in 1991 which added immigrants to a category called ‘socially disadvantaged’ in order to provide subsidies for their housing expenses (Calavita 83-84).
San Salvario, a neighborhood in Turin, experienced a rapid increase in immigrant population and neglected the fact that more housing would be needed to accommodate this growth. Here, the reaction of the local population was very negative and portrayed San Salvario residents as “ noisy and dirty, as living in unacceptable housing conditions and making inappropriate use of the streets of the neighbourhood [sic] and in this way representing a threat to the enjoyment of private and public space by Italians” (Lumley & Foot 66). Although this neighborhood had begun to represent the rising immigrant population in Turin in the 1980’s, the negative attitudes and open opposition did not begin until the early 1990’s when the media and political figures labeled it as a ‘dangerous place’ in which to live (Lumley & Foot 61). A local problem became nationalized and came to represent all immigrant communities around Italy. When the whole nation becomes involved in characterizing immigrant neighborhoods as dangerous, the integration process suffers greatly and resulting in further marginalization and promulgation of anti-immigration sentiments. By removing national attention and responsibility toward the immigration neighborhoods and allowing local city government to deal with immigration programs, the integration tactics can be far more successful. Aside from housing, cities have ability to utilize local resources to create socio-cultural integration activities.
In allowing regional governments and city government to create social events in which immigrants and Italians can participate, the goal of integrating immigrants would be more effective. In 1989, the region of Emilia-Romagna found itself vigorously fought for funding after the passing of the Turco-Napolitano law that allowed local governments to apply for subsidies for integration activities. The funding went to programs that gave “Italian language classes; special initiatives for women and children; sports events; dissemination of information” (Calavita 84). The city government has worked closely with charity organizations, such as Caritas, to assist immigrants through providing food and dormitories (Caponio 133). Bologna is the best example of a city that has successfully taken the initiative to integrate immigrants and its progress can best be seen in its attempts to facilitate immigrant access to the political sphere. Certain cities in Italy, Bologna included, have implemented a street-level bureaucracy where local public agency workers are responsible for the creation and implementation of laws, which allows for a greater degree of participation by local immigrant citizens (Caponio 103). In other words, the opportunity for immigrants to participate and generate new integration policies and programs for the city greatly improves. It is further argued, “the integration would be possible only if foreigners are included in the polis [political bureaucracy], which therefore would start the inclusion [of immigrants] at the local level” (Colombo 97). Research has shown that in Bologna, local sentiment does not see immigration as a danger to the Italian culture (Colombo 59). A city wide poll showed that four out of five local Italian citizens believed that immigrants were contributing members to society and the local economy, where fifty percent of the population believes that immigrants positively impact the local industries while only sixteen percent believed immigrants do not contribute to the local economy or society and contribute the crime rate in the city (Colombo 37-38). The statistics reflect a positive local image regarding immigrants in Bologna which means they have been successfully integrating immigrants into their community: “the case of Bologna then, is distinguished by the relatively precocious attempts to insert immigration policies into the local administrations agenda… which will be at the center of successive innovative programs in future administration” (Caponio 137). It is therefore evident that Bologna has successfully implemented integration plans to allow future immigrant populations to feel more welcomed and able to belong within the community. By shifting more financial resources from the national government to the local governments, immigrants would be integrated into Italian society in a much sufficient and effective manner.
Another viable solution to help integrate immigrants is to strengthen existing laws. The Council of Europe in The Hague Recommendations Regarding the Education Rights of National Minorities and Explanatory Note, 1996 has clearly stated that, “persons belonging to national minorities have the responsibility to integrate into the wider national society through the acquisition of a proper knowledge of the State language… [And] States should approach minority education rights in a proactive manner” (National Minority Standards 45). This clearly protects the human rights of immigrants and minority groups in all European country while giving responsibility to the country to provide educational opportunites. Rights for immigrants and minority groups are constantly being developed and strengthen to give them added protection. In 1999, the Lund Recommendation on Effective Participation on National Minorities called for the “Effective participation of national minorities in public life” with the aim to “facilitate the inclusion of minorities within the State and enable minorities to maintain their own identity and characteristics” (National Minority Standards 77). European laws call for the integration of immigrants already residing in the country, but do not declare illegal any preventive measures put forth by national governments. In Italy, political parties like Lega Nord have campaigned to keep immigrants out of the country in the first place which would then make integration programs obsolete because all immigrants would potentially be denied access to the country. They have fought for a greater punishment against illegal immigrants inside the country in order to reduce the incoming flow (Einaudi 307). Laws that exist now provide the protection to regular and irregular immigrants against discrimination from the State but they still have yet to be fully enforced. Ironically, it would be to the benefit of the country to enforce the Council of Europe’s laws because Italy and Europe will face labor shortages in the future and will soon be unable to sustain their economies without immigration (Laczko 559).
This strategy of legal immigrant protection and services, however, cannot and does not provide the practical methods of implementing integration policies. With the election of Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister, the right-wing parties increased their anti-immigration rhetoric and made it more difficult for immigrants to enter the country. In 2002, the Turco-Napolitano law was revised to be stripped of its liberal components and prompted Reform Minister Umberto Bossi to state “On immigration, we must hit hard, as hard as possible” and that there would be “toleranza sottozero” (below-zero tolerance) on illegal immigration (Calavita 35). More extensive laws were used to criminalize anyone within the country without a carta di soggiorno (residence card) and fingerprint all non-EU irregular immigrants to determine their legal status. The increase of laws combating immigration led the Catholic Church to make a statement that these laws “[violate] the principles of solidarity and human rights” (Calavita 36). They are completely correct in stating that the new laws enacted are violating the very rights that the Council of Europe has granted all immigrants and minority ethnic groups in the country. The laws reflect only the ideals of politicians with strong nationalist sentiments and disregard the human suffering that these laws cause the immigrant populations.
In fact, rather than being of benefit to the population, the current laws created to deal with immigration further any existing marginalization and alienation. Current immigrant populations are often only welcomed if they are legally allowed to work in the country, having a carta di soggiorno, because they contribute to the local economy, but they are rejected from the social community. The categorization and labeling of immigrants according to their legal status clearly violates the Council of Europe’s laws proposal that all immigrants are to become integrated into the European societies by legally separating immigrants from non-immigrants (Cavalita 11). In Italy, an immigrant born and raised in Italy is not given automatic citizenship until they apply for it once they are adults. Italian citizenship is given by birth only to those who are ethnically Italian. The first step for integration to be effective and successful is to amend laws that hurt immigrants. The current European laws are unable to successfully integrate immigrants because they are overpowered by current Italian political sentiments toward immigration. In order for the laws to work, the national government must be willing to remove laws that are hurting and further segregating the immigrant population from the Italian population. At this point, however, the best option to integrate immigrants is to require the local governments to implement their own integration programs, regardless of the existence of those larger national laws. The success of the integration programs in Bologna can be easily seen and adopted by other cities that have a high population of immigrants.
The best approach the government can take to integrate non-European Union immigrants is to require local state and city governments to implement the most appropriate programs to fit the needs of the immigrant population. By providing programs to assist immigrants in finding housing, to discover ways to make immigrant and Italian interact, and to encourage immigrants to participate in local politics, will help immigrants become better integrated into the Italian society. This will allow stereotypes and the fear of immigrants to become obsolete because the local Italians will see that immigrants are not a threat to their security or their culture. In fact, by having immigrants become integrated into their society, Italians will benefit from the increase in the economy by the fact that there will be more buyers and workers.
It is important in any country to find solutions to protect the right of immigrant and minority groups because the tyranny of the majority can lead to ethnic cleansing or violent outbreaks. Not finding solutions to solve immigration related issues could undermine national economies and affect the growth of the population. If the Italian government takes the steps to discover the best course they could take to integrate immigrants and actually implements it, any other country with the same problems could potentially look at Italy as a model and use similar strategies within its own borders. Knowing the particular answer to the immigration issue in Italy is especially important because through finding a solution for a developed country that will help people from third world countries live better lives, Italy would provide an opportunity for other developed countries to see the viability of successfully integrating immigrants into their society. Immigrants, whether they are legal or not, have the right now chose where to live and where to start a family. Policies to protect their right should be debated by every developed nation because they have the power and obligation to provide everyone with an opportunity to succeed.
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Photo Courtesy of tristam sparks