SEPTEMBER 6, 2013
Westy Egmont, Research Professor and Director of the Immigrant Integration Lab, led twelve students from the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work through England, Belgium, and France to study immigrant integration in the European Union (EU) this summer. The elective course, EU and U.S. Immigrant Integration: a Comparison of Social Policy, positioned students to actively research the issue of immigrant integration through a comparative analysis of immigrant integration policies and practices in the EU and the U.S.
The cohort of eight Clinical and four Macro practice students met with 25 experts in the field of immigrant integration, including government officials, social services agencies, policy developers, research leaders, and advocacy groups in Oxford, London, Brussels, and Paris. "Before taking this course I didn’t understand how all these groups worked together on the same issues, and how the economic, social, and political spheres interacted," said BC Social Work student Margaret Mason.
In Belgium students visited the immigration reception center, Bon, which provides free integration programs for people of foreign origin. Bon not only provides language and job training, which are foundational components of integration programs both in the EU and the U.S., but also provides social orientation, life career orientation, counseling, and guidance. "I was struck by how comprehensive and personalized the integration programs in Belgium were, not to mention the level of resources invested by the government. What impressed me the most was that Bon recognized that immigrants need support beyond language classes and job counseling," said BC Social Work student Sara Phillips.
Upon their return, students presented their findings and recommendations from the course to a panel of immigration policy experts including staff members from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refuge Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), the Governor’s Office, the Mayor’s Office of New Bostonians as well as Catholic Charities and the Immigrant Learning Center at the Boston Foundation. The presentation focused on immigrant integration approaches that utilize social education, holistic person-centered programs, and the unique role of children in cultural sharing and integration. Student recommendations focused on integration models that honor multiculturalism and social inclusion.