Immigration, A Polarising Electoral Issue

Immigration, a Polarising Electoral Issue

by Tito Drago

MADRID, Feb 8 (IPS) – In the campaign for Spains Mar. 9 elections, there are two opposing positions on the question of immigration. On the left, the predominant viewpoint is that immigrants must be accepted, and that comprehensive global solutions are needed, while on the right the attitude is at best to cold-shoulder, and at worst to harass them.

The first stance, with variations, is supported by the governing Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and by the United Left coalition, as well as non-governmental organisations. The second is held by the main opposition force, the centre-right Popular Party (PP).

PSOE parliamentary candidate and current Labour and Social Affairs Minister Jess Caldera told IPS that if, as he expects, his party is returned to power, the new government will strengthen cooperation with the countries of the developing South, and develop more initiatives to deal positively with immigrants.

“We intend to increase official development aid and promote more open European markets, without taking them apart altogether, in order to promote progress in the countries of origin, so that people dont have to cross borders to escape from poverty,” he said.

Caldera added that migration flows, “which arise from humanitarian crises, mean that the few well-qualified people they have” leave these countries.

That is why he proposes that Europe, the United States and Japan commit themselves to providing aid to the countries of the South that are losing qualified personnel, to finance the training of at least as many people as migrate.

At present, he said, “rich countries are treating nations of the South unjustly, and one of the effects of the loss of their best human capital is that they cant take steps to improve their situation and the welfare of their citizens.”

During Calderas time as minister, a programme was implemented for 700 Senegalese women to come to Spain each year and work for five months picking strawberries. They then go back to their country and return to Spain the following year. “During that period they earn as much as they would get for five years work in Senegal,” he said.

He also signed agreements with governments, including those of Peru, Ecuador and Senegal, to fund training in the fishing industry, as in Spain very few people are willing to work on deep sea fishing vessels, although this country has one of the largest fishing fleets in the world, operating in every sea and ocean.

In conclusion, Caldera said that “immigration is positive and has greatly contributed to the growth of the Spanish economy in the last few years, as well as increasing diversity and preventing our countrys demographic collapse.”

Positive action is required, “with respect for the law, obviously,” but with the awareness that “no trench, sea or fence will prevent immigrants from entering Spain, and the greatest proof is what is happening in the United States, which in spite of all the restrictive measures in place on its border with Mexico, is unable to prevent their entry.”

By contrast, PP leader Mariano Rajoy, the partys candidate for prime minister, proposed several restrictive measures in statements made on Wednesday.

The most startling of these proposals is for the PP, if it wins the elections, to oblige immigrants to sign an “integration contract.”

This obligation would apply to immigrants renewing their one-year residence permits. The document they would sign would commit them to obey the laws, respect Spanish customs, learn the language, pay their taxes, work actively to integrate into Spanish society, and return to their country if they cannot find work after a given period of time.

PP sources said that “hygiene,” the prohibition of female circumcision or genital mutilation and the equality of the sexes are among the Spanish customs that must be respected. Further, they would limit the entry of immigrants relatives, which is permitted under the current law.

On the positive side, Rajoy added that a PP government would take steps to help immigrants integrate, and would respect their beliefs and customs as long as they do not run counter to Spanish laws.

The head of the Association of Moroccan Immigrant Workers in Spain (ATIME), Kamal Rahmouni, said integration cannot be regulated by decree, law or contract. “What, would they give us a catalogue of Spanish customs?” he asked.

Javier Ramrez, a spokesman for SOS Racismo, went even further, saying the PP proposal “is unconstitutional, since peoples rights are not dependent on their nationality or immigration status.”

According to the polls, the PPs chances of winning the elections seem slight, as the PSOE is ahead by three or four percentage points.

In addition, Caldera told IPS that his electoral committee is predicting that PSOE voters will turn out in greater numbers than in previous years, and that his party “may be eight points ahead of the PP.”

The forecast of a higher turnout is thought to be due to the reaction by young people against the policies advocated by Rajoy, and against the indirect support given to it by the Roman Catholic Bishops Conference, which has spoken out against the socialist governments progressive measures. (FIN/2008)