The Spanish-speaking world is at the heart of the global debate about migration. Mexico is the biggest source of emigrants in the world, and the money they send home exceeds what the economy receives in foreign direct investment.
Spain was until recently a country of emigration too, but its economic success has transformed it into
one of immigration. In fact, it has received more migrants in recent years than anywhere else in Europe – and far more, as a share of its population, than the United States has.
Migrants, in turn, have helped drive the economy’s dynamism. Living standards in Spain last year overtook Italy’s: as Italians are loath to admit, Spaniards now do it better.
Far from costing Spaniards their jobs, all these newcomers have contributed to a huge rise in the employment rate. And while the economy has recently taken a turn for worse, immigrants are not to blame: other factors, notably the bursting of a property bubble, are responsible.
In future, Spain will need more migrants, not less, not least because its society is ageing and its economy requires people with different perspectives to help drive innovation and growth.
Spain is also, in a sense, the gateway to Europe: a stone’s throw – or a boat ride – away from Africa. So its immigration policy matters to the rest of Europe, and its experience to another country with poor neighbours to its south: the United States.
Spain’s experience in Ceuta and Melilla shows that high-tech border walls don’t keep out migrants. Meanwhile, its mass regularisation of illegal migrants in 2005 – call it an amnesty if you prefer – was a huge success, not only for the migrants themselves, but for society as a whole.
All the more reason why one must hope that Spain’s prime minister, José Luis Zapatero, will block Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposals for an EU immigration pact that would commit European governments not to resort to mass regularisation in future.
I’m particularly delighted that Inmigrantes is being published by the development NGO Intermón Oxfam. As they bravely and rightly recognise, migration is at the heart of development.
EU immigration rules that try to prevent Africans from working in Europe are just as unfair as EU trade rules that keep out their farm produce.
Opening up our borders to people from poorer countries would not only do more to help the poor than any other public policy measure; it is a moral imperative.
It is time for other development NGOs, progressive politicians, and all those who believe in human rights, global justice and international solidarity to place freedom of movement for all at the heart of their campaigns.
If you believe the world is unfair and we should do more to help the poor, you should be campaigning to let them work here freely.