Giovanna Dell’Orto criticizes American immigration policies at UMass.

By Julia Riordan

 Benno Kraehe/Daily Collegian)
Giovanna Dell’Orto discussed migration policies at the Integrative Learning Center. (Benno Kraehe/Daily Collegian)

Author, immigration scholar, former journalist and professor at the University of Minnesota Giovanna Dell’Orto spoke with students and faculty at the University of Massachusetts Integrative Learning Center on Thursday, offering an analyzation and information on the culture of immigration that exists across nations.

Dell’Orto discussed the problems with both U.S. and EU migration policies and the realities migrants and refugees face when challenged by these static laws.

She drew parallels between migration policies of past and present, highlighting the fact that despite the growing rate of immigrants, the change in migration patterns and the cultural transformations along the way, the laws have not made it easier for immigrants to build their homes.

“It is far from easy or straightforward,” said Dell’Orto, debunking the widely-held notion that there is a line for immigrants to wait in to be admitted as a documented citizen. “There is no line to get into, and it gets longer depending on where you’re from.”

Dell’Orto explained that there are over 500,000 cases pending in the U.S. Immigration Court, so it is highly unlikely to become a documented citizen in less than two decades. Not only is the immigration system so clogged with migrants yearning to become citizens, Dell’Orto said it also prevents them from being able to even stay in the U.S. as they await their trials.

“Throughout the time you’re waiting, you can’t wait here, so off you go. No matter what your political ideas are, the system is broken,” said Dell’Orto.

She explained that because the immigration system was implemented in 1965 and “there has been no other systemic form of change,” it has flipped the demographics of immigrants coming into the U.S.

Dell’Orto connected the intractability of the immigration system with its social implications, demonstrating how it has affected aspects of society that many people would not expect or think to connect.

“[The immigration system] has impacted everything from school meals to voting patterns,” said Dell’Orto.

According to the author, the EU’s immigration system is even more complicated due to each country having its own different laws regarding migrants.

With the current humanitarian crisis and influx of refugees and migrants coming from the Middle East, the situation has only grown dire as some EU countries have closed their borders. Dell’Orto stressed the necessity of showing compassion for refugees.

“All countries have a human rights obligation to refugees. We owe [refugees] the urgent act of rendering aid,” said Dell’Orto.

She highlighted the difficulty of balancing the political values of a country with those of new people coming into a country, and how this complexity connects to the way that journalists portray immigrants and the immigration system. The system is usually depicted as having borders that block out the migrants, lending to public perception of immigrants being outsiders.

“Journalism helps shape public policy because it constructs images of borders and migrants that help define the box within which the public and policy-makers think, and can provide the chance to think outside of it,” said Dell’Orto.

Being an immigrant from Italy herself, Dell’Orto added a personal anecdote exemplifying the negative attitudes some native-born citizens have of immigrants. After a traffic dispute, another driver angrily followed her back to her house.

“He said ‘go back to where you came from,’” Dell’Orto recalled.

Since public perception often views immigration as an out of control problem, journalists must “trick people into caring and focus on the human element to make people care,” said Dell’Orto.

According to the author, there is disconnect in how people view immigrants. People do not know who they are, where they come from, and why, but recognizing the answers to these questions will bridge the gap of confusion and disillusion.

Dell’Orto urged that in order to receive news that does not solely view immigration as borders and incorporates individual experiences, citizens must show that they care to hear it.

“Our voices have never been heard more clearly by news executives. How we pay attention to these issues matters,” said Dell’Orto.

Freshman journalism major Benno Kraehe expressed admiration for both the speaker and the event as a whole.

“I thought that Giovanna Dell’Orto was very effective and engaging. I also thought that the talk was highly relevant, informative and eye-opening,” said Kraehe.

The event was part of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Speaker Series: Perspectives on Migration, co-sponsored by the communication department at UMass.

Julia Riordan can be reached at [email protected]