Date: Thu, 30 Dec 1999 23:29:59 -0600 (CST)
From: IGC News Desk <>
Subject: RIGHTS-SPAIN: Immigrant Bill Approved in Blow to Gov’t
Article: 85773
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Immigrant Bill Approved in Blow to Gov't

By Alicia Fraerman, InterPress Service, 22 December 1999

MADRID, Dec 22 (IPS)—The Spanish government suffered a major defeat Wednesday as parliament passed a law on foreigners, with an absolute majority voting in favour, while the only votes against were cast by legislators from the governing centre-right Popular Party (PP).

According to the new legal text, immigrants who already live in Spain but lack government-issued documents, can legalise their status and enjoy the same rights as Spanish citizens, including freedom of expression and association, and the right to social security.

Foreigners who wish to move to Spain will also have access to such rights. Most immigrants work jobs that Spaniards tend to shun, primarily in the agricultural and construction sectors, which unions and labour experts say continue to suffer workforce shortages.

“It is a victory for trade unions and social organisations, but especially for the immigrant workers,” reads a communique from the General Union of Workers (UGT), released just minutes after the Congress of Deputies voted on the bill.

Since it was already passed by the Senate, according to Spanish law—which does not give the Executive veto powers—, the text approved Wednesday will go into effect as soon as it is published in the Official Bulletin of the State, within 15 days.

The original draft of the immigration bill was approved in September by the Congress of Deputies with the consensus of all parties, including the PP, after a commission had studied the issue for 18 months.

But, in a surprise move, after the Senate passed the law, the PP introduced 112 amendments in the Congress of Deputies that profoundly changed the agreed-upon text.

The government, led by José María Aznar, justified its change of position arguing that the original text went against the European Union's (UN) regulations and that its approval would encourage even greater immigration to Spain, known as Europe's “southern door” for foreigners.

This line of thinking was carried to an extreme by Foreign Affairs minister Abel Matutes who said last Saturday that approving the text would endanger Spain's sovereignty over the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish enclaves on the northern coast of Africa.

According to Matutes, the new law would open the door for massive Moroccan immigration to the enclaves and, soon, the Moroccans with legal residence in these cities would press for their decolonisation and annexation to Morocco.

Meanwhile, Spanish emigrees around the world have expressed their support for the rights of immigrants arriving in Spain, who the claim would have suffered under the PP's amendments had they been approved.

The first and second political opposition forces—the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the United Left coalition (IU, centred on the Communist Party)—announced at the beginning of the debate that they would oppose the PP's amendments and would defend the original bill's text.

Given the challenge, Aznar put his efforts behind winning the support of nationalists, such as the Catalonian and Basque parties, and the regionalists, like the Canary Coalition (CC), in order to gather enough votes to impose the amendments.

A pillar of the strategy was to win the CC vote, after recognising that the Basques would not support the government and the Catalonians alone were not enough to achieve a majority.

On Wednesday, Dec 15, and Monday, Dec 20, the secretary generals of Spain's largest trade unions, Candido Méndez of the UGT (pro-socialist), and Antonio Gutiérrez, of the Workers Commissions (CCOO, pro-communist), discussed the issue with the CC and its president, Paulino Rivero.

The result was that Carmelo Rodríguez, co-ordinator of the CC (which governs the Canary Islands), announced his group would not support the amendments, “despite the blackmail and threats” of the PP.

The law approved Wednesday will replace the 1985 law and, according to union and civil organisations, represents a giant step forward for immigrant rights, compared to the old law approved under the PSOE-led government.

After the vote, Luis de Grandes, parliamentary spokesman for the PP, said the legislators had defeated Spain, not the government, “on an issue that puts the vital interests of the State at stake.”

PSOE spokeswoman and former Labour minister Matilde Fernandez said the government had been beat because the PP sees immigrants as “cheap labour, instead of as people with rights.”

The high point of the back-and-forth commentaries came from deputy Diego Lopez Garrido, of the New Left (an offshoot of the IU, allied with the PSOE). The legislator borrowed a song by the famous Catalonian singer Joan Manuel Serrat and sang, “Today might be a great day, today will be a great day.”

And many agree with him, especially the immigrants, but also the trade unions, non-governmental organisations, human rights groups, and emigrant and immigrant rights groups, as well as all political forces—with the exception of Aznar's Popular Party.