Europe ratchets up its pressure on immigrants
The E.U. voted to allow longer detentions for illegals and to standardize deportation rules.
In one of the clearest signs yet of Europe's hardening stance on immigration, on Wednesday the European Parliament approved tough new rules for expelling undocumented immigrants, among them a provision allowing member nations to keep migrants in detention centers for up to 18 months. Foreigners who have been forcibly deported also face a five-year ban on reentering the European Union.Skip to next paragraph
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The measure, which met stiff opposition from liberal lawmakers and human rights groups, comes as a wave of anti-immigrant feeling and policy proposals are sweeping Europe and parts of the United States. Many observers see the EU vote as a litmus test of the public mood and bellwether of policies to come.
"It is clearly a symbol of the direction the EU is going," says Andrew Geddes, a political scientist at the University of Sheffield in England. "When it comes to immigration, the focus is going to be limiting access through very strict controls."
The product of nearly three years of negotiations, the new measure aims to standardize rules for deporting immigrants, which vary widely across the 27-nation bloc. Under the terms, EU countries are required to give illegal immigrants seven to 30 days to leave Europe after receiving deportation orders.
Those who don't depart voluntarily, or who officials fear may go into hiding, can be detained for up to 18 months while awaiting removal to their home country or a third nation. This includes families and unaccompanied children, though EU nations are urged to detain minors only as a "last resort." The measure also lays out some safeguards, like provisions for medical care.
Supporters contend the rules were needed to give weight to immigration laws. "Europe has made it clear that it is not tolerating any form of illegal status," says Manfred Weber, a German center-right lawmaker, who shepherded the directive through parliament.
But critics argue the EU measure will erode humanitarian standards in Europe and beyond. During the floor debate that preceded the vote, Giusto Catania, an Italian leftist, called the measure "an insult to civilization in Europe."
The new policy –part of a wide-ranging package of policies under negotiation in the EU that aim to create a common European approach to immigration – is part of a widespread anti-immigrant backlash.
•Last month, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who blames immigrants for soaring crime rates, proposed a raft of measures, among them a law to make entering the country without permission a crime punishable by up to four years in prison. Meanwhile, Roma (gypsy) camps around Naples have been reduced to charred ruins by a string of fire-bomb attacks.
•On Tuesday, Spain announced plans to give legal immigrants who have lost their jobs lump sum payments if they agree to return home (see accompanying story).