Europe's hardening attitudes toward immigration found a voice in the EU Parliament Wednesday, as legislators endorsed controversial new rules for expelling illegals that come amid a widening crackdown across the Atlantic in the United States.
As the global economy slows, governments in rich countries are coming under increased pressure to act tough on immigration. While the European rules do not lay the groundwork for workplace raids like in America, they do contain contentious measures such as providing for long detention periods.
The wealthy EU has seen a spike in tensions with immigrants: Italians blame foreigners for a rise in crime, France is grappling with violence in immigrant-heavy suburbs, and Belgium has come under criticism for its treatment of foreigners in detention centers.
Until now, there has been no common EU policy on expelling illegal immigrants, and detention periods varied from 32 days in France to indefinite custody in Britain, the Netherlands and five other countries.
Under the new guidelines, already approved by EU governments, illegals can be held in specialized detention centers — not jails — for up to 18 months before being expelled. But EU countries must provide detained migrants basic rights, including access to free legal advice, and unaccompanied children or families with children should be held only as a last resort.
Once found by authorities, immigrants first will be given the opportunity to leave voluntarily within 30 days. If there is a flight risk or they do not comply, they can be put in custody for up to six months while their deportation is processed.
A 12-month extension would be possible in specific cases, such as when illegal immigrants do not cooperate with authorities or when their identity must be verified with their home country. A re-entry ban of up to five years may be imposed on expelled immigrants who do not cooperate or are deemed a threat.
"Europe has made it clear that it is not tolerating any form of illegal status," said German Christian Democrat Manfred Weber, who steered the bill through Parliament.
The EU estimates there could be up to 8 million illegal immigrants in the 27-nation bloc, many of them living in squalid conditions and engaged in black economy. This compares to roughly 11 million illegals in the United States.
Almost one million migrants were turned away at EU borders in 2006, half a million were caught inside the bloc and 200,000 deported, mostly from southern European countries such as Spain, Italy and Greece.
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A Matter of Security
In response to economic and national security concerns, the European Union has approved new rules for expelling illegal immigrants from the bloc. A Pentagon advisor believes the measure was long overdue.
Until now there has been no common EU policy for expelling illegal immigrants, and detention periods have varied from 32 days in France to indefinite custody in Britain, the Netherlands, and five other EU countries. Under the new guidelines, however, illegal aliens can be held in specialized detention centers up to 18 months before being expelled; and a re-entry ban of five years may be imposed on expelled immigrants who do not cooperate or are deemed a threat.
Participating nations have two years to implement the new rules, which are part of an effort to create a uniformed EU asylum and immigration policy by 2010.
Lt. Colonel Bob Maginnis (USA-Ret.) says the move is well overdue. But he says it remains to be seen whether those countries can stop what he calls a "massive" influx of Muslims who refuse to assimilate into the European culture and, instead, prefer to take over and transform that culture "into something reminiscent of the countries they come from ...."
Maginnis notes that the new rules are very interesting, considering the criticism doled out by liberals in the United States over the holding of Islamic terrorist suspects at the Guantanamo Bay facility ("Gitmo") in Cuba. "If it weren't sad it would be humorous," he continues. "The Europeans are recognizing that some of these people should not be set free. And if they were they would just recidivate into the same old ways." Maginnis believes it may already be too late for Europe to turn things around.