Tailor's Tale Wins Sympathy But No Reprieve by Dutch
Turkish family deported Oct. 3 from Netherlands, a nation once generous to illegal immigrants.
AMSTERDAM — The marches and street demonstrations have ended in the Netherlands, after a two-year struggle over illegal immigrants' rights that sharply divided public opinion.
At the center of the debate was Zekeriya Gumus (pronounced GOO-mish). The tailor and his family had been living illegally in the Netherlands since 1989.
The family's fight against deportation ended Oct. 3 when they left for Turkey. But behind them, they left immigration issues in Europe's most densely populated country that are far from resolved.
During their struggle, 50 percent of the Dutch population supported the Gumuses, while 30 percent believed the family should be deported, according to a national poll.
"We are sad, but I am comforted by the fact that half of Holland walked with me," the tailor said.
The Netherlands' open border and generous welfare state have been a magnet for foreigners. In the late 1980s and early '90s, an average of 78,500 immigrants and refugees arrived each year.
But growing public resentment of illegal immigrants - accused of taking jobs and abusing welfare benefits - prompted the Dutch government to tighten its laws in recent years.
The Netherlands has avoided imposing an immigration policy with a strong law enforcement emphasis, like the one that exists in the United States. Rather, the Dutch prefer that illegal immigrants leave voluntarily.
As part of its crackdown, the government began targeting what are known as "white" illegal immigrants, like Mr. Gumus. Such illegals pay taxes and are eligible for health insurance and other social benefits - in contrast to "black" illegals - who avoid taxes by accepting under-the-table wages.
If they can prove they have paid six years of taxes, "white" illegals are supposed to receive favorable consideration in applying for residency permits. But the tailor could only show he had worked as a "white" illegal for 2-1/2 years. And his argument that the family be permitted to stay on humanitarian grounds - his youngest son was born in the Netherlands and barely speaks Turkish - was rejected.
The neighborhood and school rallied to the family's side, holding demonstrations and marches. They pointed out that local government officials helped Gumus start his business. The family's plight even won the attention of Prime Minister Wim Kok, who met with political and government leaders. But the official stance did not change.
"The 'white' illegal ruling was already an exception," says Justice Ministry spokesman David Asser. "We could not make an exception on an exception."
A bill introduced in parliament to ease the immigration law failed 74 to 68. Another bill that would have permitted only the Gumus family to stay was defeated by a larger margin.
Many of the family's supporters are disappointed in their national leaders. "The government's position that a rule is a rule is a rule is based on a very small majority in the parliament," says Amsterdam City Council member Frans Spit of the moderate Christian Democratic Appeal. He adds, "Well, Shakespeare said a rose is a rose whatever the smell ... and I think this rule and a rose both stink."
Supporters are urging the family to appeal the deportation to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Several legal experts have argued that treaties involving Turkey and European Union member states take precedence over Dutch law, a theory yet to be tested.
As they boarded a plane at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, the Gumuses waved to well-wishers. "The Dutch people are losing four friends, but we are losing thousands," Gumus said.