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From Dortmund to St. Louis, cities face ‘contradicting messages’ in efforts to incorporate newcomers

Immigration scholars (from left) Jorg Ploger, Adriano Udani and Florian Sichling discussed the incorporation of immigrants and refugees into their respective communities.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
Immigration scholars (from left) Jorg Ploger, Adriano Udani and Florian Sichling discussed the incorporation of immigrants and refugees into their respective communities.

Thousands of miles separate St. Louis, Missouri, from Dortmund, Germany, but when it comes to immigration and refugee resettlement, the two cities aren’t so far apart.

Among the most pressing debates that link them are the “politically contradicting messages about the purpose of immigration,” as Florian Sichling describes the issue.

“On the one hand there’s the humanitarian motive of helping people who are fleeing persecution, and then there’s a strong economic incentive to bring in highly skilled people that fuel a local economy,” the University of Missouri–St. Louis faculty member, who is originally from Germany, said during Monday’s St. Louis on the Air. “And I’ve heard both of those in the current debates in Germany and in St. Louis.”

“Those are not the same thing, and those are not the same kind of people,” Sichling continued. “But in the absence of a comprehensive idea about what it is that immigration is supposed to do and what it’s supposed to look like, institutions like the International Institute, which does great work – but also a lot of the government agencies in Germany – are then charged with having to resolve that contradiction in the way in which they serve immigrants. And a lot of times that’s an impossible task.”

He joined fellow UMSL faculty member Adriano Udani plus Jorg Ploger, a researcher visiting from Dortmund, for a conversation with host Don Marsh about the incorporation of immigrants and refugees in their respective communities.

Udani, who along with Sichling has studied various immigrant communities around the St. Louis region, noted that the German state has a stronger presence and a stronger visibility in creating a safety net for newcomers.

“We have something to learn from Germany in the sense that, if you look at St. Louis, a lot of the territory of immigrant service provision is in the jurisdictions of nonprofits and churches,” Udani said. “Across our many municipalities, there’s few governments that actually have government-institutionalized programs.”

One current UMSL research project focuses on the second generation of Bosnian immigrants in St. Louis, with a focus on the decisions they make as they graduate high school and move on into their careers.

Asked about the seemingly mixed reception Germany’s recent asylum seekers have encountered, Ploger confirmed that there appears to be both “more openness” to refugees and immigrants in some respects as well as “less openness on the other hand” in his country.

He estimated that Dortmund itself has received about 8,000 refugees of late.

“It put quite a lot of pressure on our local services, particularly at the beginning in finding adequate housing,” Ploger said, “and then, second after that, the pressure on things like integration, like how to get these people into the labor market, language courses, et cetera.”

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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