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Welcome to the Third Annual Transatlantic Dialogue on Immigration
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Welcome to the Third Annual Transatlantic Dialogue on Immigration
Ellyn Toscano, Executive Director, New York University Florence
La Pietra Dialogues
March 21, 2012


Welcome to the Third Annual Transatlantic Dialogue on Immigration.

Over the three years since our first Dialogue, this topic has engendered more heat than light, more hand wringing than ideas, at least in Europe. We continue to be assaulted with stories of tragedy and death. December 13 of last year in Florence, a lone gunman opened fire in two different locations, on groups of Senegalese merchants, killing two and wounding three others before killing himself. The Mayor’s response was immediate and clear: this kind of xenophobic violence is violence against the entire city, not just one of it’s communities and cannot be tolerated. President Napolitano called on authorities and the public to “combat …every form of intolerance and to reaffirm the tradition of openness and solidarity in our country.”

Waves of immigrants fleeing first repression and economic disaster in North Africa, and now the uncertainty of the future continue to reach the shores of Lampedusa – or not. Just this past Saturday, rescue services came to the aid of 221 migrants aboard three boats in the waters around Lampedusa. The UN reports that about 60,ooo people landed in Italy in 2011, many of whom were Africans fleeing civil unrest.

In France three French soldiers of North African descent and three Jewish children were killed by another “lone gunman.” As one publication asked: “What link can one make between an anti-semitic crime in front of a Jewish school and the assassination of French soldiers, two of whom are Muslim?”

President and presidential candidate Sarkozy stated that he would "not allow the management of immigration flows to be in the hands of technocrats and the courts" and pledged that he would pull France out of Europe’s 25-nation visa-free-zone unless border controls are strengthened. Last week, Germany and Austria criticized Greece’s lax control of its border with Turkey, resulting in increased illegal immigration into Greece and the rest of the European Union.

The debate in Europe sounds familiar to Americans. Even in a country that proudly, but abstractly, claims immigration as part of its origin myth, in a less abstract way continues to resist any new immigration. Immigration is very much an issue in this presidential campaign as in past campaigns though the issues do not always break neatly along predictable partisan lines.

But with all of the debates raging in the US and throughout Europe, about national policy, EU policy, rights creation and enforcement, immigrants arrive to communities with schools, businesses, homogeneous, established communities, unemployment, police and law enforcement and must be integrated. As polemical wars rage in other jurisdictions, cities and their communities must respond, daily.

This afternoon, we will look at how communities best respond – in the critical areas of – urban planning, economic development, education, community and religious leadership and culture and the arts - Notwithstanding our provocative title, what we aspire to do is outline strategies of hope and cooperation – and if I may be idealistic – strategies which celebrate the energy which new communities bring and integrated thinking on the municipal level about how cities can think of immigration in all aspects of its planning: not as a sectorial policy handled by specialists. Some of you – but not many – may remember former N.Y. Mayor David Dinkins who famously described NY as the “gorgeous mosaic” of diverse communities – Florence is creating its own mosaic, thanks to the leadership of some of the people you’ll hear on the panels today.

 
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