Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Spain: Example of Enlightened Immigration Policy

Spain has a population of 40 million and is geographically 1/20th the size of the United States. Since 1985, Spain has welcomed and granted legal status to 600,000 immigrants. In 1987, after the United States enacted comprehensive immigration reform, 2.7 million immigrants were granted legal status. The United States has a population of 300,000,000 and is 20 times larger than Spain. Unlike the United States, Spain encounters no nativist or anti-immigrant outcries of any significance. To the contrary, the Spanish seem quite willing to accept the newly arrived immigrants, including those from Africa. A portion of these immigrants come from Latin America and share a common language and culture. Hence, it could be argued that such immigrants are more easily assimilated into Spanish society. Even taking account the cultural kinship, the Spanish seem extraordinarily tolerant in welcoming immigrants. This is in marked contrast to other European countries, and significantly to the United States, where nativists constantly harp that the country cannot absorb so “many” immigrants.

According to the New York Times,

No country has run more legalization programs than Spain, which has carried out six since 1985. As recently as a decade ago, immigrants made up less than 2 percent of the population. Now they are more than 10 percent. About 40 percent come from eastern and northern Europe; 38 percent come from Latin America; and 20 percent from Africa.

Despite the rapid change, until recently there was little political conflict, with legalizations occurring under both conservative and socialist governments. Spain even offers immigrants free health insurance, whether they are legal or not.

“The attitude toward unauthorized migrants is much more relaxed than in the United States,” said JoaquĆ­n Arango, a sociologist at Complutense University in Madrid.

The acceptance has been attributed to newfound prosperity, the need for workers, the progressive culture of post-Franco Spain and the shared language with Latin Americans, which spares Spain a major source of tension in the United States.

“Border Crossings: Spain, Like U.S., Grapples with Immigration,” by Jason DeParle, The New York Times, June 10, 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/10/world/europe/10migrate.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp

Did you catch that: immigrants make up 10 percent of the Spanish population. A similar percentage of immigrants in the United States would amount to 30 million people. Keep in mind that the density of the Spain is considerably higher than that of the United States.

Historically, nativism in the United States has had a strongly anti-Catholic element. In fact, the central part of Harvard nativist, Samuel Huntington’s argument against Latin American immigration is the fact that they come from Roman Catholic countries. (Huntington, like many nativists ignores the fact that, well over a third to as much as half of Latin Americans, are now Evangelical Protestants.) Huntington argues that Catholic immigrants will change our Protestant work ethic and culture. Needless to say, this argument is lacking rock-hard empirical evidence.

What Spain demonstrates is that a society can absorb very large numbers of immigrants without social disruption. I would argue that the repressive Federal policies currently being carried out against immigrants in the United States are much more socially disruptive than legalization of undocumented workers. We, who have prided ourselves as a tolerant society, might well take a chapter from the Spanish on how to treat immigrants in our midst.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your post is informative - and yes Spain has been more accomodating than the United States. You'll see no ICE raids in Spain.

However, there is a lot going on that is ignored by the New York Times article.

I have spent a significant amount of time in Spain the last couple of years, and have gotten to know a number of different families.

The truth is that white Spaniards detest the "dark immigrants" from Africa. As one woman from Madrid told me: Their culture and religion and way of life is different. They don't fit in this society.

I saw documentaries about how young professional African women in Spain are often assumed to be prostitutes - and the liberal newspaper El Pais often has articles complaining about immigrants.

Lastly, a good number die trying to get to Spain in makeshift boats - and there is not much sympathy expressed when they find the bloated bodies.