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Monday, March 10, 2008

Spain and U.S. both face immigration challenges

After languishing for decades in the European Union’s economic cellar, Spain became a rising star. In fact, 40% of the new jobs in the EU between 2004 and 2007 were created in Spain according to the EuroNews. What sparked this economic turnaround? The widely accepted answer is immigration—although not everyone in Spain is happy about it.

Like the United States, Spain has an aging population that needs younger workers. "What immigrants pay into our social-security system every year is equal to the pensions of one million Spaniards,” said prime minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero.

But despite the unquestioned economic benefits immigration has brought Spain, there are still those who chafe at the presence of foreigners. “We have a low birth rate, we have an economy that needs people, and we need people coming from abroad. We recognize that immigration has been important to Spain's economic success - we just want the immigrants to recognize that they have duties as well as privileges… they need to assure us that they will integrate,” said Rafael Rodriguez-Ponga, a member of the conservative Popular Party, according to Toronto’s Globe and Mail. Leading into the general election held Sunday March 9, the Popular Party had proposed an “integration contract” that required immigrants to guarantee they will “learn Spanish and accept Spanish customs.”

Illegal immigration has been an issue as well. "We must fight tough against illegal immigration. We must expel foreigners who commit a crime in Spain,” said Mariano Rajoy the conservative Popular Party’s candidate for prime minister.

On March 9, Spanish voters reelected Zapatero, rejecting the hard-line approach of the Popular Party. As Labor and Social Affairs Minister Jesús Caldera told Inter Press Service, “no trench, sea or fence will prevent immigrants from entering Spain, and the greatest proof is what is happening in the United States, which in spite of all the restrictive measures in place on its border with Mexico, is unable to prevent their entry."

The citizens of Spain have recognized the benefits of immigration and chosen a workable solution to the challenges it poses. While far from perfect, Spain’s electoral decision is a lesson we can learn from.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

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