New EU Law Against Illegal Immigrants is Finally Passed Despite Some Criticism     Print Email

The European Parliament approved new EU-wide regulations with tougher measures against illegal immigrants – a population thought to number eight million (compared to an estimated 12 million in the US).

The EU law, a “return directive,’ is intended to harmonize laws and policies on the politically explosive issue in all 27 member states by providing a common framework for each country’s national laws. A central point in the directive is a provision in which illegals that refuse to go home can be detained for up to 18 months and then deported – with a ban on them from reentering the EU for five years.

Parliamentary assent marked the final step in instituting the new set of regulations.

The rules in the return directive exempt asylum-seekers. But they apply to foreigners who have overstayed their visas.

Critics of the new measure brand it as an abuse of migrants’ human rights, arguing that the length of detention is disproportionate and unwarranted. But proponents retort that the directive will actually improve immigrants’ protection in EU countries where the laws currently allow indefinite detention of illegal immigrants. In a statement issued, the European Parliament said that “member states will be banned from applying harsher rules to illegal immigrants, but allowed to keep or adopt more generous rules.” It adopted the legislation as a step forward in EU integration that will help governments cope with the threat of a rising tide of illegal immigrants, notably from Africa. Human-rights activists warned that the new law will be exploited by some EU countries alarmed by inter-ethnic tensions as Europe’s demographic make-up shifts as Muslims arrive from the Middle East and Africa, and Eastern Europeans move west.

Flak has also come from Latin America about the new directive. Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, threatened to disrupt oil exports to Europe over the issue. Some Latin American countries apparently are afraid they might lose remittances from their emigrants to Europe. The EU Observer notes, “last year immigrants in Europe, the US and Japan sent money back to their families in Latin America and the Caribbean amounting to just under €43 billion, more than the region receives from foreign direct investment or development assistance combined.”

The US is wrestling with similar problems of immigration without yet finding a national consensus. Many American business sectors depend heavily on immigrants, some of them illegal.

Analysts predict that immigrant labor will be increasingly important to Europe given the pejorative economic effect of its aging indigenous populations. Additionally, it has become increasingly evident that the EU lacks the skilled migrant labor it needs in order to stay competitive in the global economy. Europe needs help filling the void left by the highly educated workforce that has emigrated – primarily to the US. Using Census data on education and income, French economist Gilles Saint-Paul of Toulouse University explained to The Wall Street Journal that “a disproportionate number of European immigrants in the US were among the brightest prospects in their fields…the people who are most important for innovation and entrepreneurship.”