Italy cracks down harder on immigrants with bill making illegal immigration a crime

Italy chamber makes illegal migration a crime

ROME — Italy’s lower chamber of parliament passed a hotly debated bill Wednesday making it a crime to enter or stay in Italy illegally — the latest effort by Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative forces to crack down on illegal migration.

To ensure swift passage, Berlusconi’s allies put the legislation to a confidence vote, which they easily won 316-258. Confidence votes force lawmakers to close ranks since any defeat would force the government’s resignation.

The legislation makes entering or staying in Italy without permission a crime punishable by a fine of euro5,000-euro10,000 ($6,840-$13,670). Migrants would not face prison, but the bill provides for up to three years in prison for anyone who rents housing to an illegal immigrant.

The measure must still be approved by the Senate for it to take effect.

Berlusconi’s conservative coalition has been working to stem the flow of illegal migrants, bolstered by surveys showing many Italians link immigrants to crime.

Last year, more than 36,000 migrants from Africa and elsewhere arrived in Italy by boat, many coming ashore on the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa. Hundreds of boats run by organized smuggling rings set off from Libya alone.

Italy now ranks fourth — after the United States, Canada and France — in the number of migrants requesting asylum, according to the Italian Refugee Council humanitarian group. Last year, 31,160 people requested asylum in Italy — more than double the number from 2007.

Earlier this month, Italy started sending back to Libya boatloads of migrants it intercepted in international waters without first screening them for asylum claims. The U.N. refugee agency, the Vatican and human rights organizations voiced outrage, saying Italy was breaching international law.

The government, which has complained that it has been left by the European Union to deal with illegal immigration alone, has defended the new policy, saying the U.N. refugee agency can screen the migrants in Libya.

Italy’s new return policy is not part of the bill passed Wednesday by parliament’s lower Chamber of Deputies. The legislation passed is part of an overall security bill that also would authorize citizen anti-crime patrols.

While Italy has long issued expulsion orders for illegal migrants, the new law would criminalize illegal entry or residence — something critics say could result in people being turned in for simply going to a doctor.

Livia Turco of the opposition Democratic Party said that, even though schooling is guaranteed for children of illegal migrants, teachers may feel compelled to denounce the parents.

Rocco Buttiglione, a center-right lawmaker, criticized the bill before the vote, saying it would bring “slavery” to Italy by creating a class of workers without any rights.

He said it would keep illegal migrants employed as factory workers and caregivers for the old and young “in a condition of material and moral inferiority.”

The result, he warned, would be that, rather than turning to police when they need to, migrants would turn to the mafia or vigilante justice.

But lawmaker Manuela del Lago of the anti-immigrant Northern League party, which spearheaded the legislation, said Italy was embarking on the right path.

“We don’t understand why we have to keep them all here, and in other countries they don’t take anyone,” she said.

Under an immigration law adopted when Berlusconi was last in power, immigrants must have a job awaiting them in order to get a residency permit.

If illegal migrants don’t qualify for asylum, Italian authorities issue expulsion orders, although many of the tens of thousands of clandestine migrants who arrive in Italy yearly slip through the cracks. They either stay in Italy or travel to other European countries in search of jobs or family.


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