The integration process of immigrants in Spain

3535 words (14 pages) Essay in Sociology

27/04/17 Sociology Reference this

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Immigration Spain Emigration

A social analysis of the integration process of immigrants in Spain.

The way in which ‘the problem’ of immigration in Spain affects the integration of immigrants.

Over the last fifteen years, Spain has gone from being a country of emigration to a country of immigration. In recent years few European countries have experienced as dramatic a rise in immigration as Spain. Spain has been among the most open countries in the European Union, admitting 650,000 immigrants last year alone and granting residency permits to 560,000 more who were in the country illegally.

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Although the percentage of immigrants is still relatively low compared to other European countries (6.1% of the population in 2005) the growth of immigration experienced over the last five years has led experts to consider the country as a “new immigration centre.” The economic and historical connections with North Africa and South America have been the principal triggers of immigration flows, with almost 2/3 of immigrants coming from outside the EU. Europeans also represent a large number of immigrants in Spain. Attracted to the Costa del Sol’s climate and low cost of living, many come to retire.

There are three basic causes for this substantial change in the position of Spain as a new centre of immigration. The first is the continuous economic development of the country and the fact that it belongs to one of the most developed regions in the world, the EU. Secondly, Spain is considered as an alternative to other European countries with high levels of immigration where there now exist increasingly strong restrictions on immigration, especially those originating from outside Europe. Thirdly, Spain’s geographical situation means that it has become the ‘back door’ for immigrants’ intent on reaching the rest of Europe.

The significant increase of the foreign population since 2000 has resulted in a growing awareness that immigration is a structural phenomenon and Spain: a multicultural country. Recent Spanish opinion polls reveal the distortion between the reality and nationals’ perception of the extent of this immigration. In the book ‘Europeos e Inmigrantes,’ the authors study local’s opinion on immigration and conclude with the following results: approximately 55% of Spanish society perceive Spain as having ‘a lot’ of immigrants- though not too many- and 25% of them consider the number of immigrants to be too high. The number of immigrants, but more specific still the presence of immigrants, is suggested to be a ‘problem.’

This study will be looking at the perception of immigration as a ‘problem,’ and the consequence of this perception on the integration of immigrants in Spain. I am interested in the integration of immigrants on a social level: the ways in which social constructions of the ‘other’ are reflected in the social integration process of the immigrant population. In the end, I hope to make sense not just of immigrants’ marginal status in Spain; but also how the concept of culture and society shapes the integration process.

Despite common belief that Spain is being met by an invasion of newcomers, the percentage of immigrants to the total national population remains the lowest within the EU. By 2001, immigrants in Spain made up 2.5% of the population, contrasted with 4.2% for the UK, 4.3 for the Netherlands, 5.6 for France, and 8.9 for Germany. Overall, the European average is three times higher than the Spanish average. Despite the fact that illegal immigrants are seen as a threat to the growing population, illegal entrance into Spain counts for only 4% of the immigrants entering legally. Yet today, immigration is among the top three mentioned problems and has been referred to as a cultural problem.

The media has had, and continues to have, a great influence on the nation’s interpretation of immigration and the prominence of immigration in national politics and people’s consciousness reflects the extent to which the subject of immigration is covered by Spanish media. No other medium is able to send a determined message out to the masses, or has so much power as to make everyone value their freedom of speech.

Those who have studied ‘public opinion’ have said, “Although people think they have formulated their own opinion, in actual fact their opinion and argument is more or less echoed from a favoured political leader or party.” National newspapers go as far as to include a section on ‘the immigration problem’ aimed at keeping track of the number of illegal immigrants apprehended by the police. The Spanish newspaper, ‘El País’ uses headlines such as: ‘Interceptados 76 inmigrantes en las costas de Granada y Canarias en las últimas horas, and frequently describes the arrival of ‘nueva oleadas de pateras que intentan alcanzar España.

On television, the Spanish public are supplied with regular images of illegal immigrants attempting to enter the country illegally. The constant focus on immigration in political discourse and in the mass media has created a sense of migratory pressure amongst the public, a sense that there are floods of people banging on the border doors to get in. “Las puertas de Europa España y nueve países europeos han acordado establecer un operativo para patrullar toda la zona del África atlántica “susceptible” de ser punto de origen de pateras y cayucos que viajan hacia Europa y, sobre todo, hacia Canarias, que acusa casi cada día la presión de esta avalancha migratoria.”

This pressure is fuelled by both a fear of security and a fear of immigrants affecting the Spanish labour market (which I will discuss later on). This fear is often translated into panic and irrational conclusions for those ignorant of the reality of the situation. Evidence of illegal immigrants in Spain has created confusion between attitudes towards illegal and legal immigrants, and often the two groups are treated as one.

Following the 9/11 tragedy, race stereotypes have once again become commonplace and through pure ignorance and fear, immigrants are seen as a threat to the public’s safety, often being associated with Islamic fundamentalism. Public insecurity due to misinformation has manifested itself in violence and xenophobic feelings against the immigrants. An example of this took place in 2000, in El Ejido (Andalucia), where locals violently attacked newly settled immigrants, following a young girl’s murder by a Moroccan.

The dissemination of these negative perceptions has helped conjure up a sensation of invasion, which does not mirror the reality of the situation. The reality of the situation (which I have already discussed) is that this existing fear is unjustified. It is a representation of the ignorance surrounding the perception of immigration linking the race of an immigrant group with the safety of a country.

Immigration has also been considered a threat to the structure of the labour market. During the 1980s and 1990s, when immigration to Spain was at its highest, the country was experiencing a profound economic crisis characterized above all by high levels of unemployment. The presence of immigrants and the misconception that they were invading the Spanish labour market, added further tension to the relationship between the two groups, and was therefore considered an economic and social problem. “More than any other factor, unemployment is generally seen as the root cause behind the electoral successes of the radical Right across Europe and is credited with casing an existence of a negative, anti immigrant attitude in Spain.”

Immigration in Spain has also been treated as a cultural problem “where the idea of having immigrants in the country is not perceived as a positive multicultural phenomenon but as a threat to the integrity of the Spanish cultural identity.”

The Spanish fear that the increasing presence of other national cultures will overshadow and stifle their own traditions. The immigrants have brought their own culture to Spain, which they expect to be respected and recognised so that they may practice their traditions in harmony with the rest of society. Spaniards fear that the integration of immigrants will entail the growth of alien religious infrastructures and more conflict between locals and immigrants.

The social integration of Muslims in particular is perceived as difficult, because of the demands for their own religious infrastructure. The constructions of mosques render the development of a multicultural society even more obvious. Since the terrorist attacks in Madrid 2004, Islam has been presented as an alien civilization, with mosques feared as centres of terrorism. This fear often translates into irrational conclusions. “As it generally does in other European countries, the association of North Africans with Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and crime tends to breed hostility and suspicion from the Spanish public.”

In summary, the immigration problem revolves around an insecurity bred by the sense of invasion. People feel threatened by the implications of immigrants in the labour market, and what ‘integration’ really entails for the culture and society dynamics of Spain.

I am now going to address the concept of integration and how the perception of immigration already discussed has affected this process. In order to assess how this is affecting the integration process I will be looking at the topic from an anthropological perspective.

Among those who attempt to define the concept of integration, there is considerable disagreement. In the context of Spanish immigration it has taken on many meanings, some implying that it is reached when the immigrant is able to ‘fit in,’ others suggesting that it hinges on natives’ open-mindedness and tolerance, and still others prioritising the accessibility of social services and basic necessities.

Often, the term is simply used as a synonym for settlement, or establishing physical and social roots. A Spanish social scientist and immigration expert defines it this way: ‘We can say that immigrants are integrated into a host society when they do not face additional obstacles due to their foreign origin in the main aspects of their social, economic, and family life, when compared to the native-born population.’

Law plays a central role in the immigrants’ integration on all levels and has been seen as “formally codifying them as different at several levels.” Spain had several attempts at immigration legalisation: the first, ‘the Ley de Extranjeria,’ focussing primarily on control over immigrants rather than integration. Immigration laws designated some people as non-citizens with a limited set of rights and privileges.

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Others were declared to be illegal and unwelcome altogether and those who did achieve legal status found their position unstable, as they are vulnerable to frequent changes in legislation and status. When in 1998 the issue of integration was finally addressed, the focus was still on the integration of ‘non-EU foreigners’ rather than the immigrant group as a whole, stigmatising the non-EU immigrants as the problem group.

Perez, in his article, “Spain: Forging an Immigration Policy,” goes as far as to say that the ‘Law on the rights and Freedoms of Foreigners in Spain and their Integration’ passed in January 2000, was not so much ‘because of the law’s acknowledgement of immigrant rights but because of its conception of immigration as a permanent phenomenon.’ Still today immigrants struggle against policy restrictions.

Despite the common belief that immigrants create problems in the Spanish labour market, the reality of the situation is that the immigrant work force is largely responsible for Spain’s economic growth. This growth, over the last decade, has been among the fastest in the EU. “It is not a coincidence that the strong economic growth and increase in employment rate has increased with the arrival of immigrants into Spain.” Having said this, statistics show that in 2006 the unemployment rate for Spaniards was 8% compared to 12% for foreigners.

The lack of facilities for Spanish employers to contract foreigners and the difficulty such employers face accessing Spanish labour has resulted in irregular immigration flows and labour markets. In addition to the disparity between the unemployment rates for Spanish and Immigrant workers, there is also a difference in the nature of work. The restructuring of the Spanish economy after the accession to the European Community has resulted in an increase in the demand for labour in sectors of the economy where nationals no longer wish to work.

Spanish laws make it virtually impossible to gain admission as legal residents outside of the quota system that is largely confined to those willing to work in agriculture, domestic help, and construction, i.e. those sectors where wages and working conditions are inadequate to attract sufficient local workers. These laws thus guarantee that immigrant workers labour under conditions that are shunned by most of the working class, an arrangement that furthermore highlights their economic alienation and their exclusion from reasonable housing, health care and other basic necessities further distancing there chances on reaching integration.

Furthermore, there is little stability for immigrants in the labour market with most of them receiving only temporal jobs. There is also a significant difference in wages. It has been noted that non-communitarians earn 33% less than Spanish citizens. These forms of discrimination have resulted in the exploitation of undocumented workers: considerably lower payments, a lack of safety standards, labour security and worker rights.

One of the main problems with the way in which immigration is perceived in Spain is that not much is known about the immigrant as an individual. Because of this lack of knowledge, realities are distorted and often the outsider is assumed to be the culprit for society’s ills. “In endeavouring to reduce environmental complexity to a manageable size, when bombarded with environmental stimuli, untested cognitive short-cuts come to be employed which have a tendency to become self fulfilling.”

In order for immigration to be perceived accurately by any social group there must be a basis of knowledge; not hearsay. As most of the media coverage on the immigrant population relates to violence and delinquency, it is understandable why the average Spaniard, adopts a defensive stance. To gain an accurate, or at least fair representation of the immigrant population, these negative portrayals ought to be contested with representations from the minority groups. A lack of organisation and funds are said to explain the lack of minority media produced in Spain.

Whether this is the case, or whether the lack of initiative to produce a platform for the minority groups to speak out from is the manifestation of another social inequality. The danger of a ‘general’ perception of the immigrant group is that incorrect assumptions are made and stereotypes formed. Generalisations on immigrants’ nationalities create a belief that each nation has one culture shared by all inhabitants. Similar generalisations are made towards the second generation of immigrants. The children of the immigrants, who have never immigrated, and who were born in Spain are assumed to be of foreign origin.

These stereotypes also include the concept that others’ cultural traits are strange and not worthy of exploring because they are not necessary to the already comfortable, established concepts that the society possesses. The cultural traits that cause the most ‘problems’ are those most different, usually those from non-European countries. This is because, in everyday life, they are the most conspicuous (with regards to the fact that in Spain the colour of one’s skin is still associated with being ‘foreign’) reminding nationals that Spain is becoming a multicultural country. Spanish researcher and anthropologist, Damian Omar Martinez, explores the concept that on a social level, non- European immigrants are discriminated against more because they are considered further away from integration: the integration that sees immigrants conforming to the Spanish way of life.

With the transformation of the European Union, the free movement of Europeans between borders means that to a certain extent relationships between different European cultures are less tense. European citizens are increasingly viewed as being part of a European community. The borders between themselves and ‘the others’ have almost been extended up to the exterior borders of Europe.

McGrance argues that there is a distinct Western thought process. He argues that: ‘there is the superior Western culture, and then there are all the rest as contrast. A sharp divide is created, with epistemological privilege always on the side of the West. With these analyses in mind, one realises the extent of the difficulties immigrants face in becoming integrated into Spanish society.

Adding to the discussion on integration and what impedes this process for immigrants, I am interested in how a national population is able to control a minority population. When talking of integration, it is impossible to say when an immigrant is fully integrated as an essential part of this process is determined by non- controllable factors such as the native population’s response.

It seems the first step to any kind of integration for minority groups (the immigrants), is acceptance from the majority (the nationals). However, when integration can be defined as a concept that calls for the absence of racism and tolerance for minority groups, the question is raised as to whether it is integration we are talking about or tolerance. Is the immigration in Spain a case of ‘integrating’ immigrants or merely ‘tolerating’ them? If it is a case of tolerating immigrants, there is little hope of integration for immigrants on a social level.

This brings me onto the concepts of ‘society’ and ‘community,’ which seem to influence the process of integration of immigrants. Calavita writes that the concept of culture and community is difficult to define. She quotes Walzer’s attempt at defining the term: “ that at a minimum a community consists of like-minded members, with some special commitment to one another and some special sense of their common life.” The term community deals with the concept of belonging and not belonging: the member whom is accepted and part of something, and the outsider whom is striving to be part of something that is not necessarily clear.

The Europe we see developing today is a prime example of a ‘community’ of nations pushing for one identity. Cris Shore explores the idea that this very existing identity is one of the main culprits for the problem of integration of immigrant. “Identity is represented as a process of classification involving boundaries of inclusion and exclusion.” Shore goes on further to explore the terms European and non- European. Though there is no official definition for these terms, ‘ a more coherent applied definition can be seen emerging at the borders and boundaries of the new Europe.’

With the distinction of European and non-European groups becoming clear, so to is the distinction between the insider and the outsider. These terms are used to reiterate the fact that the immigrant is from outside, it is used to make the distinction between the group of ‘Us’ (national population) and ‘Them’ (the immigrant), and it has been used by Spaniards to remind themselves of what they are not. One must ask to what extent the integration of immigrants is a process of selection, and to what extent the national population influences this process.

Nowadays the significance and relevance of being a member of a community has been devalued somewhat, as it is increasingly difficult to define this term. Calavita quotes Bauman and others as arguing, “that this kind of community is on the decline, as globalisation, with its collapsing cultural boundaries, and the diminishing significance of the nation-state, erodes its boundaries and disintegrates its ties, leaving little structure to the foundations of this group.”

‘The diminishing significance of the nation state’ refers to the developing ‘European identity’ the EU are pushing for today. This united centre requires the breaking down of national barriers to ensure full communication between nations in an effort for them to work together and be successful as one. Arguments put forward suggesting immigration is a ‘cultural problem’ because of its effect on the authenticity of Spanish culture, are unsound, as the very Europe that Spain forms part of, is doing just that.

Considering immigration as a ‘problem,’ has severely affected the process of integration of immigrants in Spain. The real concern lies in the general public’s perception of immigrants. The strength of a nation’s perception is based on a sentiment cultivated over many years; can this national sentiment towards immigration be changed?

It does not make sense to see a city or country as an integrated body of citizens, a group you can enter once you have completed cultural, economic requirements. It is the discussion of immigration as a problem, and the questioning of whether immigrants integrate or not that creates the phenomenon of immigration and puts such pressure on the social groups involved to form a position on the issue. When analysing the immigration issue in Spain, it should not be the question of whether the immigrants are a problem, or whether they are integrated or not, but what there role is in society.

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