Europe ratchets up its pressure on immigrants
The E.U. voted to allow longer detentions for illegals and to standardize deportation rules.
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•And France has vowed to make illegal immigration a key focus of its EU presidency, which begins July 1. Among the measures it hopes to see the European Parliament approve are sanctions for companies that employ undocumented immigrants.Skip to next paragraph
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The new EU directive is part of a wide-ranging package of policies under negotiation in the EU that aim to create a common European approach to immigration.
Critics argue the measure could encourage European nations to hold immigrants and asylum seekers in detention for longer periods. Currently, two-thirds of member states have limits shorter than those specified under the new law. In France, for instance, immigrants can be held only 32 days; Hungary has a one-year cap.
Italy has already announced that it plans to abandon its two-month limit in favor of the new 18-month standard.
In the EU, there are 224 detention centers for migrants, with space for more than 30,000 detainees. While the centers vary greatly, a 236-page report contracted by the European Parliament last year found that the conditions at many are "grim," "inhumane," and "degrading," with immigrants kept in small, prisonlike cells.
The report also notes that investigators were "particularly shocked by the presence of detained minors in closed detention centers in the vast majority of the States studied," and expressed grave concerns about young detainees' mental health.
Critics of the new EU directive take issue with the five-year reentry ban, saying it doesn't make enough provisions for shifting political realities or unforeseeable events, such as famine and war, which could leave expelled immigrants vulnerable. "This piece of the policy could be very dangerous in terms of refugee protection," says Kris Pollet, of Amnesty International's EU office.
In the run-up to Wednesday's vote, emotional debate erupted among members of European Parliament, as Amnesty International and others lobbied vigorously to block the measure. The Roman Catholic Church and Latin American leaders also weighed in. Bolivian President Evo Morales went as far as threatening to abandon negotiations on a trade pact between Europe and Andean nations if the EU adopted the directive.
In the end, the measure was approved 369 to 197, with 106 abstentions. Many lawmakers made it clear they backed the measure despite reservations because of pressure from the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, which threatened to block future talks on rules for returning immigrants if this measure didn't pass without amendments.
"The council said take it or leave it," said Claudio Fava, a liberal French lawmaker, adding that he found it "very grave" that parliament had "wasted this opportunity by simply accepting the council's firm request to wrap everything up."
Professor Geddes argues that many of these measures have as much to do with how Europe views itself as how it sees the newcomers. "Unlike the US, most European nations don't see themselves as immigration countries," he says. "Many people here are still trying to reconcile themselves with the fact that this situation is permanent, that people who have arrived won't just going away."