Sunday, December 09, 2012

Spain has granted amnesty, but not without controversy

Spain has granted amnesty, but not without controversy

Not sure of the date for this piece but it provides a pretty comprehensive look at "amnesty" or "regularization" of undocumented status in Europe. Good to consider as we contemplate comprehensive immigration reform.

I agree that "amnesty" is a misnomer:
They insist that the proposed series of steps an immigrant likely would have to take to achieve legal status, such as paying a fine and learning English, do not amount to amnesty, which generally is defined as a pardon for a crime.


Spain has granted amnesty, but not without controversy

In the United States, "amnesty" is an emotionally charged term that dominates a polarized debate over whether the federal government should offer legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants already in the country.
In Spain and other European nations, the more common words for migrant amnesty programs is "regularization" or "normalization," a policy concept that has been routinely implemented since the 1970s. But the idea lately has been inflaming European passions and influencing politics in a way similar to the public outcry that defeated the U.S. Congress' last serious attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2007.
The European Union has found that finding a true solution is complicated. One member state's amnesty can cause friction with officials in neighboring states who argue that such generous programs only attract more illegal immigrants and perpetuate the region's overall problem - echoing complaints commonly heard from stateside amnesty foes.
click here Advertisement Since the mid-1980s, Spain alone has legalized nearly 1.2 million illegal immigrants, according to the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental organization headquartered in Geneva and funded by 127 countries to track global migration trends. The largest was in 2005, when the Spanish government granted work permits to nearly 700,000 illegal immigrants. The work permits must be renewed and do not allow immigrants to remain as permanent residents.
The programs were mostly aimed at moving illegal immigrants out of Spain's large underground cash economy to generate more taxes. To qualify, immigrants had to show they were employed and that their employer was paying social security taxes. As long as the workers have work permits, they pay into the system.
Since the last large-scale legalization in 2005, the number of illegal immigrants in Spain has plummeted from 1.3 million to 200,000 in 2009, according to estimates by Spain's Institute for Advanced Social Studies, a government-funded research organization in charge of running the Migration Observatory in Andaluc�a, in southern Spain.
Meanwhile, the number of foreign workers registered in Spain's social security system jumped from about 800,000 at the end of 2004 to more than 1.4 million after the regularization in 2005, according to a report by the International Center for Migration Policy Development, an intergovernmental organization in Austria.
The regularization program in 2005 generated roughly $123 million in additional income tax revenues and another $123 million in additional social security revenues, the report said.
But the idea of granting "amnesty" to illegal immigrants remains controversial, with opposition intensifying since the worldwide economy tumbled.

Incentive or solution?

As in the U.S., many European critics consider regularization an incentive or reward that only serves to attract more waves of illegal border crossers - which they say is the reason that countries such as Spain and Italy have had to return time after time to mass legalizations. And the European Union's increasingly heated immigration politics have strained relations between member nations sympathetic to amnesty and neighboring states that oppose the practice.
"Some countries are relatively adamant against it while some have done it multiple times," said David Haines, a professor of anthropology at George Mason University in Virginia and an expert in migration and refugee issues. "The experience tends to be that the amnesties get bigger over time, so they don't resolve the issue of having irregular immigrants. The argument is they're here anyway, and they should be legal in at least some ways."
In the U.S., the word "amnesty" draws such a heated response, particularly from conservatives, that advocates of comprehensive immigration reform are loathe to use it. They insist that the proposed series of steps an immigrant likely would have to take to achieve legal status, such as paying a fine and learning English, do not amount to amnesty, which generally is defined as a pardon for a crime.
Amnesty is not exclusively a European Union or U.S. concept, but the issue comes up most often in the U.S. and European nations because they are among the biggest destination points for illegal immigrants.
However, other countries that attract illegal immigrants, such as Brazil, also consider amnesty. Brazil has granted it multiple times, most recently in 2009.
"Malaysia, for example, has a lot of undocumented workers, and they periodically have amnesties, too," Haines said. "But their notion of an amnesty is that we will no longer hold you criminally liable for being here, but you're still going to have to go home. So amnesty can mean different things."
Advocates of European-style amnesty maintain that the pros outweigh the cons. Ignoring a migrant population living outside the system inevitably leads to humanitarian concerns and long-term social problems such as poverty and crime. Even if illegal workers keep coming, advocates argue that it is better to periodically lift them out of the black market and onto the tax rolls. Doing so provides a more accurate look at the labor situation and helps a government take account of who is living within its borders, they say.

Differing attempts

European nations have experimented with amnesty for years. Eligibility criteria and other key details vary widely, but between 1996 and 2007 European states legalized the status of more than 5 million migrants, either through amnesty programs or bureaucratic mechanisms, according to a forthcoming report from the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute.
Southern European countries have instituted most of the large-scale amnesty programs for illegal immigrants. With 25 amnesty programs among them since 1982, Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal have led the way. Italy, Spain and Greece generated 84 percent of EU regularization applicants between 1997 and 2007, according to the MPI report.
Because of their proximity to Africa, a source of many migrants, Southern European governments have had to manage immigration flows for years. One reason for the repeated use of amnesty is that Spain and Italy do not have the administrative capacity to regularly admit large numbers of migrants legally and therefore wind up with larger numbers of illegal immigrants, said Willem Maas, the Jean Monnet chair in European integration at York University in Toronto, who has studied and written about European amnesty programs.
The administration of regularization programs doesn't always run smoothly. There have been complaints about bureaucratic delays and paperwork problems. Migrants sometimes have difficulty producing proof of residency for the necessary period of time, which can vary, and proof of employment, a frequent requirement.
In some instances, only temporary legal status is granted - not citizenship, which is a goal of many pro-immigrant advocates in the United States.
"Most amnesties/regularizations in Europe simply register the migrants, allowing them to live and work legally, but often fail to provide paths to permanent residence or citizenship," Maas said. "This often has the effect in practice that migrants join the regular workforce when they are legal and slip back into the underground economy once their status expires."

Forefront of EU agenda

Political resistance to regularization is stiffest in northern Europe, where amnesty generally has been granted on smaller scales and targeted more precisely to specific groups, such as long-term asylum seekers who have no real prospects of returning to their home countries rather than migrants attracted by economic opportunities.
Spain's 2005 amnesty sparked a backlash inside the European Union.
"That really caused problems for a number of neighboring countries, particularly France, who felt that that legalization would have a spillover effect on their own country," said Elizabeth Collett, a Brussels-based European policy fellow for the Migration Policy Institute. "Namely, that those legalized under the program would then decide to move to France, to Italy, to other countries, to then find alternative work. It's been difficult to find strong evidence either way. I'm personally skeptical, because if you have a good job and someone has just given you legal status, why would you up sticks and move to France and start the whole process again?"
Regardless, the Spanish amnesty helped thrust immigration to the forefront of the EU agenda.
A 2008 EU immigration pact attempted to get member nations to agree not to hold any more mass regularizations. Members agreed only to avoid large-scale amnesties. The pact's effectiveness is in doubt; both Italy and Belgium in 2009 proceeded with significant regularizations in spite of it.
The wide-ranging Treaty of Lisbon, ratified in 2009 to reform EU government, calls for a common EU immigration policy covering areas such as the treatment of foreign nationals and stopping illegal immigration and human trafficking, but explicitly says member states retain the right to determine immigration volumes in their own country, limiting the EU's influence on migration issues.
In Britain, politicians still occasionally talk about amnesty, even if the policy tool appears to be politically out-of-vogue at the moment.
"In the last election, every politician reported that immigration was almost the No. 1 issue on the doorstep," said Matthew Pollard, executive director of MigrationWatch U.K., an anti-immigration organization in London. "So even if politicians would like to give an amnesty for various reasons, it probably would not go down too well with the public. I don't think it's likely to happen."

In the United States

The United States last undertook a major amnesty program for illegal immigrants 24 years ago.
The law, known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, extended amnesty to undocumented migrants who could demonstrate that they had been in the country prior to Jan. 1, 1982. Nearly 3 million took advantage of the legislation, which was signed by President Ronald Reagan on Nov. 6, 1986.
Public dissatisfaction with it has helped give amnesty a bad name in the U.S. and continues to hamper attempts to reform immigration laws. Criticisms stem from the lack of enforcement of the 1986 law's employer-sanctions provisions and its failure to anticipate the demand for low-skilled workers when the U.S. economy boomed in the 1990s and 2000s. With no legal avenue for entry for foreign labor, waves of new immigrants came illegally to fill jobs. As a result, many Americans concluded that amnesty did nothing to stop the flow of illegal immigrants and may have even exacerbated the situation by attracting more illegal immigrants.
"It was presented as somehow resolving this problem, and it was certainly clear in the data within a couple of years that it wasn't having that effect at all," said David Haines, an anthropology professor at George Mason University in Virginia. "Those people who had been legalized simply moved into better jobs, and that created a draw for other people to come to move into those jobs. It was all about employer sanctions, which were never done."

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