Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Immigration Debate Divides Europe

Finally awakened to the scope of the immigration problem and the threat it poses, European politicians are scrambling to do something to appease their increasingly worried citizens. Three countries currently offer a glimpse of politicians in transition between the former politically correct orthodoxy that immigration in an unmitigated good and those who realize the damage done to their societies by unfettered invasion.

In Denmark, the government of center-right Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen appears on course for an electoral victory. Mr. Rasmussen made curtailing immigration the centerpiece of his campaign.

The telegenic Mr Rasmussen, who has presided over a successful economy, has stolen the clothes of the populist far-right Danish People's Party, which has given unofficial support to the government, by launching an unprecedented crack down on immigration.

In July 2002, Denmark tightened its laws and decided only to accept refugees as defined by the Geneva Conventions, meaning those who have been or have concrete fears of being persecuted because of their race, religion or political beliefs. Denmark has also made it harder for foreigners to get residence permits and bring in spouses born outside the EU, and closed a host of asylum reception centres. The combined measures led to a dramatic drop in the number of asylum-seekers, from 12,512 in 2001 to 3,222 last year.

The popularity of Mr. Rasmussen's hardline on immigration has outweighed public discontent with his deployment of Danish troops to Iraq.

British politicians know they have a problem, but unlike Denmark's Mr. Rasmussen, they don't quite know how to come out and say it openly. The out-of-power Tories, led by Michael Howard, have seized on the issue, deriding the Labor government's refusal to deal with the situation. No doubt sensing public's growing apprehension in the face of a coming election, Labor officials now promise immigration reform.

[Home Secretary Charles Clarke] told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: "Migration for work, migration to study is a good thing.

"What is wrong is when that system isn't properly policed, and people are coming here who are a burden on the society, and it is that which we intend to drive out."

He added that around 140,000 migrants enter Britain each year to work, but that he would not limit the number because the needs of the economy could change.

"We will establish a system . . . which looks at the skills, talents, abilities of people seeking to come and work in this country, and ensures that when they come here they have a job and can contribute to the economy of the country," he said.

He also said the Government would improve border controls because it was "very difficult" at present to estimate how many people were entering Britain illegally.

British citizens should wonder - especially in an age of terrorism - how their government tolerated border controls that makes it "very difficult" to even guess how many aliens have entered their country illegally. But at least the British have crossed the psychological barrier of political correctness and admitted that they have a problem. In that, they join Denmark and the Netherlands.

Spain, on the other hand, remains mired in politically correct thinking, refusing to acknowledge any problem at all. The ruling socialist government has announced an ambitious plan to legalize as many as one million illegal aliens already living in Spain.

The initiative, which coincided with the arrival this weekend of the biggest single boatload of African would-be immigrants to Spain, has alarmed EU governments which favour tighter controls. But Spain insists its humane response to hundreds of thousands who seek a foothold in Europe - and who help to keep the Spanish economy afloat - points the way for a continent becoming more dependent on immigrant labour. "Immigration for a socialist government is not just a policy of public order or border controls," said the Immigration Minister, Consuelo Rumi.

For the next three months, any immigrant who has lived in Spain since August and can produce a job contract may apply for a year's residence and a work permit. Up to 1.5 million immigrants may qualify, but no one knows how many work illegally in construction, domestic service and agriculture.

The concession that Spain's economy has become dependent on cheap immigrant labor is revealing for what it admits about Spain's demographic situation, which prevails generally across Europe. Other European governments have expressed grave concern about Spain's plan to legalize so many immigrants. Once made into legal Spanish citizens, these immigrants will find themselves with easy access across all EU borders. The security risk posed by so many undocumented aliens - many from Latin America, Africa and the Middle East - suddenly bearing EU passports hasn't escaped notice in Berlin or Amsterdam.

Not all Spaniards applaud their government's largess.

... misgivings fuelled opposition from Spain's conservative Popular Party. Angel Acebes, the PP's general secretary, warned of a "massive" response, as those who obtain permits can be joined by their families, placing Spanish health and education services under strain. But the government insists costs will be covered once immigrants and their employers start paying tax and social security contributions. Most of Spain's illegal immigrant workers are Latin Americans on tourist visas, and Moroccans who slip border controls.

The fertility rate amongst Spanish women is 1.27, according to 2004 estimates - far, far below the replacement rate needed to keep the population stable. Indeed, even with so many aliens illegally entering the country, Spain's population grew at an anemic 0.16% (estimated) in 2004. So, in a sense, the socialists in Madrid correctly understand that their welfare state can only be sustained by importing more non-Spanish workers. Unfortunately, in the long run, Spanish culture cannot.


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