France: Europe’s hardening attitudes toward immigration have found a voice in the EU Parliament, as legislators passed controversial new rules for expelling illegals amid a widening crackdown in the United States.
As global economy slows, governments in rich countries are coming under increased pressure to act tough on immigration. While the European rules do not lay the groundwork for workplace raids like in America, they do contain contentious measures such as providing for long detention periods.
The wealthy European Union has seen a spike in tensions with immigrants: Italians blame foreigners for a rise in crime, France is grappling with violence in immigrant-heavy communities, and Belgium has come under criticism for its treatment of foreigners in detention centres.
Most immigrants to Europe are from N Africa, former Soviet countries
The EU says the vast majority of the immigrants come to Europe from North Africa, former Soviet countries and the Balkans. For instance, 24,000 sub-Saharan African immigrants were caught trying to reach Spain in 2006 and 10,000 in 2007. In an indication of their desperation, more than 1,000 African immigrants also are believed to have died at sea trying to reach Spain in 2007.
Until now, there has been no common EU policy on expelling illegal immigrants, and detention periods varied from 32 days in France to indefinite custody in Britain, the Netherlands and five other countries.
Under the new guidelines, already approved by EU governments, illegal immigrants can be held in specialized detention centres, not jails for up to 18 months before being expelled. But EU countries must provide detained migrants basic rights, including access to free legal advice, and unaccompanied children or families with children should be held only as a last resort.
Choice of leaving will be given, before placing in custody
Following apprehension, immigrants will be given the opportunity to leave voluntarily within 30 days. If there is a flight risk or they do not comply, they can be put in custody for up to six months while their deportation is processed.
A 12-month extension would be possible in specific cases, such as when illegal immigrants do not cooperate with authorities or when their identity must be verified with their home country. A re-entry ban of up to five years may be imposed on expelled immigrants who do not cooperate or are deemed a threat.
Europe has 8mn illegal immigrants, U.S. 11mn
The EU estimates there could be up to eight million illegal immigrants in the 27-nation bloc, many of them living in squalid conditions and engaged in the black market economy. This compares to roughly 11 million illegals in the United States.
Almost one million migrants were turned away at EU borders in 2006, half a million were caught inside the bloc and 200,000 of those deported, mostly from southern European countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece.
The United States sent home a record 273,00 people in 2007 after staging high-profile workplace raids nationwide, arresting both illegal immigrants and those who hire them. Local police have helped fill detention centers with undocumented migrants stopped for traffic violations.
While the EU says its new law has taken more than two years to draft due to differing positions among the EU’s 27 members, and governments will have two years to implement it. The rules are part of efforts to create a common EU asylum and immigration policy by 2010.
Amnesty condemns the deal
Amnesty International condemned the deal, saying it does not guarantee the return of migrants in safety and dignity. But Immigration Minister Brice Hortefeux of France, which grapples with up to 400,000 illegal immigrants, rejected that criticism, saying that standards will not be lowered in his country and the 32-day custody period the lowest in Europe will not be changed.
Spain, another country facing mass clandestine immigrants, said it was considering raising the maximum custody from the current 40 days to 60 still far below the maximum allowed period.
Italy, which has toughened immigration policy under the new government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has already raised custody to the maximum limit in anticipation of the law.