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Colloquium Marks Debut of GSSW Immigrant Integration Lab

Immigrant Integration Lab Director Westy Egmont speaks during the Dec. 14 colloquium “How Can Social Workers Strengthen Immigrant Integration?” in the Heights Room of Corcoran Commons. (Photo by Sean Smith)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Dec. 18, 2012

In the midst of a national groundswell for immigration reform, the Graduate School of Social Work co-sponsored a Dec. 14 colloquium that officially launched its broad-based effort to aid immigrants’ transition into American democratic society.

The event, held in the Heights Room of Corcoran Commons, served as a formal welcome for GSSW’s Immigrant Integration Lab (IIL) and its director, GSSW Research Professor Westy Egmont. The lab is a unique applied research center whose academic and clinical expertise will provide resources, studies and leadership to national working groups, local agencies and professional leadership that focus on immigrant integration.

An audience of academics, social work and human services professionals, advocates and other interested parties gathered at the colloquium to hear talks on immigration-related trends and issues, in Massachusetts and the US as well as elsewhere in the world, and the impact an initiative like IIL can have on immigrant integration.

In his welcoming remarks, GSSW Dean Alberto Godenzi affirmed the IIL’s work as central to the mission of the school and of Boston College itself — which, he noted, had been founded 150 years ago to serve the children of Boston’s immigrants.

“Our resources are our ideas — and we are not short on those — and the people who make dreams happen,” said Godenzi, who was followed by Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advisory Coalition.

Egmont said GSSW is poised to be a leader in immigrant integration. “By impacting the profession of social workers, by engaging parishes, by researching effective practice by human service agencies, we can mobilize an army of positive receptors who can move immigrants from the margin to full participation in our social, economic and civic life as a nation."  

The enemy of integration, he added, “is not the law or politicians but 'entitlement’ — that pervasive attitude that holds power and privilege and must be overcome to embrace and empower all people in the community."

Massachusetts Department of Families and Children Commissioner Angelo McClain DSW’01 was part of a panel discussion along with Boston Rising Executive Director Tiziana Dearing, center, and Jane Tewksbury, executive director of Thrive in Five. (Photo by Sean Smith)

Highlighting the colloquium was a keynote address by Demetrios Papademetriou, president and founder of the Migration Policy Institute, who discussed the “Creating Social Policies That Lead to Nation-Building: The Case for Immigrant Integration.”

Papademetriou offered an overview of shifting immigration tides world-wide — predicting, for example, less movement from low-income countries into high-income countries and more between similar national economies with global labor flows. He criticized US immigration policy as being on “auto-pilot,” a system that was created in the 1960s and —owing to a lack of political will — has failed to respond to the various social issues stemming from changing immigration patterns. 

The need for a responsive immigration policy built around language training, skills development and other forms of integration will only increase, he said.

“Immigration succeeds where the immigration system is able to take chances and adapt to national needs — and then the country succeeds,” said Papademetriou.

Following Papademetriou’s address was a panel discussion on the colloquium’s theme: “How Can Social Workers Strengthen Immigrant Integration?” The three speakers — Department of Families and Children Commissioner Angelo McClain, a 2001 GSSW graduate; former Catholic Charities Boston President Tiziana Dearing, executive director of Boston Rising; and Jane Tewksbury, former Department of Youth Services commissioner and now executive director of Thrive in Five — along with moderator Paul Grogan, president of The Boston Foundation, offered their perspectives on how Massachusetts public and private social services entities are dealing with immigration issues.

The colloquium was so-sponsored by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and The Boston Foundation.

Information about the Graduate School of Social Work Immigrant Integration Lab is available at