Europe’s economic crisis has fostered anti-immigrant measures in several countries and helped advance the position of extreme right-wing parties across the continent.
By Jelena Kopanja, FI2W contributor
MADRID, Spain — A little girl stood in tears amidst the crowd at a protest in front of an immigrant detention center in Madrid, Spain. She was wearing a white shirt with her father’s identification number: 2286. An immigrant from Morocco, the man was apprehended while filling up his car at a gas station and had been in detention at the center for 30 days.
“The kids wake up in the middle of the night asking for their dad,” said the girl’s mother, who asked not to be identified by name.
The detention center near the Aluche subway station in Madrid was the focus of a protest on June 20th, World Refugee Day, against changes to immigration law that Spain is considering.
Watch a slideshow of the protest here:
Unlike the comprehensive immigration reform being discussed in the U.S., Spain’s new laws would make things harder for those undocumented workers already here. The proposed bill would, among other things, make it more difficult for immigrants to reunite with their families, impose fines on those who assist undocumented immigrants and increase the maximum allowed detention time from 40 to 60 days.
The demonstrators –including some undocumented migrants– shouted, “Immigration law makes us unequal, we are in time to stop it!” and “Papers for all!” From behind the walls of the detention center, muffled voices of the detainees rose in gratitude. “Thank you!” they yelled back.
Unlike the United States, where immigration is at the core of the nation’s history, Spain has only recently become a destination for large numbers of foreign people. Historically, it has been a country of emigration, and it was not until a decade or so ago that its growing economy began attracting workers from Africa, its former colonies in Latin America, and more recently, other parts of the European Union. Labor demand facilitated two large-scale legalizations in the past decade in Spain.
Miami is sometimes half-jokingly called “the capital of Latin America,” for its concentration of Latin American expats, Latin American corporation headquarters and even vacation homes for the region’s richest. No wonder then that both Senators John McCain and Barack Obama opted to outline their potential foreign policy towards the region while campaigning in Florida last week. Both candidates gave interviews to Radio Caracol that made headlines, each in its own way.
The highlight of McCain’s appearance was his apparent confusion as to Spain’s location and who its prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is [you can listen to it here.] A story on the incident in The Sydney Morning Herald was headlined “The brain in McCain under strain about Spain.” However, a campaign advisor denied there was any confusion, which can only hurt Spanish pride.
In respect to Latin America, McCain expressed coldness for the more anti-American leftist leaders in the region and support for Mexico’s Felipe Calderón in his war against drug cartels.
Obama, in turn, projected a more empathetic stance towards the region, admitting that the U.S. “has been so obsessed with Iraq that we haven’t spent time focused on the situation in Latin America.” He also seemed to defend his position on a potential meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who the McCain camp featured in an attack ad on Spanish-language TV this week:
I think it’s important for us to not overreact to Chavez. I think what we have to do is just let Chavez know that we don’t want him exporting anti-American sentiment and causing trouble in the region, but that we are interested in having a respectful dialogue with everybody in Latin America in terms of figuring out how we can improve the day to day lives of people.
Most people in Latin America would agree that the U.S. has not paid attention to the region so far this century. A lot of them, however, would probably view that as a good thing. Most Latin Americans consider the much-disliked free-market economic policies of the ’90s known as the Washington Consensus to have been forced on the region by the U.S. and the multilateral organizations on which it generally exerts commanding control, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. (more…)