Authors: Samuel Nielson*, University of South Carolina
Topics: Migration, Political Geography, Europe
Keywords: immigration, migration, integration, belonging, Belgium
Session Type: Paper
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Washington 2, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded
Massive migration into Europe in the wake of the Syrian civil war revitalized long-standing debates about immigrant integration. Yet a clear understanding of what defines “integration” remains elusive. Many scholars conceptualize integration as an idealized end-state wherein immigrants adapt and become absorbed into a seemingly homogenous host society (Nagel, 2009). Politicians largely adhere to this same perspective; they actively construct ideas of who the host society is, how “others” are supposed to behave, and then use laws to achieve their goals (Calavita, 2005). However, despite similar academic and policy approaches to integration, scholars to date have largely failed to address how laws aimed at immigrant integration influence immigrants’ experiences and their relationships with local citizens, institutions, and spaces. Scholarship thus implicitly reinforces political leaders’ assumptions about immigrants; and these leaders’ beliefs, as legally embodied expectations, may be inconsistent across jurisdictions and unequally applied because of the ways local actors implement integration laws. This paper focuses on activists implementing Wallonia's integration laws at government-funded regional integration centers in Belgium's Walloon region. These local actors assume a central role in integration debates as the regional integration centers have legal responsibility for all migrants (including refugees) within each center’s assigned territory. This paper examines the activists’ perspectives on belonging and integration, including how these perspectives differ from/coincide with those in legislative edicts. This study thus contributes to broader integration discourses by showing the connection – or lack thereof – between integration laws and the localized, coexistent experiences between immigrants and citizens.