o crime dos imigrantes ilegais

Posted in Uncategorized by teologarte.com.br on 15/07/2009

the crime of illegal immigrants


“If you have the right to divide the world into Italians and strangers, I claim the right to divide the world into the disinherited and oppressed on one side, the privileged and oppressors on the other. The former are my countrymen, the latter my foreigners.”

– Don Lorenzo Milani (1923-1967), Italian catholic priest

“Do not mistreat an alien or oppress him, for you were aliens in Egypt.”

– Bible, book of Exodus, chap. 22, v. 21

Brazilian Government announces amnesty to irregular immigrants on 7/2/09 (photo: Isaac Amorim) This article is motivated by two pieces of news announced almost simultaneously: in Italy, a law was passed which turns into a crime the entry or stay of a foreigner in Italian territory without the proper visa; while in Brazil, an amnesty was sanctioned which grants regular status to about sixty thousand foreigners. My family comes partly from Governador Valadares, a Brazilian city famous for sending many of its citizens abroad, but that is not the only reason I should be sensitive to the painful situation of illegal immigrants throughout the world. As a Christian, I read in many texts in the Bible that the people of God has a duty of protecting the rights of orphans, widows and foreigners. Hospitality is –- or should be -– a Christian virtue.

I have not intention of promoting illegal immigration. I would discourage any Brazilian who plans to work illegally in Europe or in the USA, hoping for better life conditions. I know by personal experience that simply living abroad, even in the best of conditions, is already difficult. Sometimes, the adventure may be financially rewarding, but no money can compensate the stigma of living under constant stress in a land that is not your own. In addition, there is the problem of human trafficking, controlled by mafias which recruit their victims with false promises of easy success abroad.

But if encouraging clandestine immigration is out of question, making it a crime seems even more absurd. The only crime committed by the foreigner in irregular situation is not having been given the proper visa. It is true that, technically, that might perfectly be considered a crime, since it is the violation of an existing law. But the fact that criminalization is possible in juridical terms does not automatically make it morally justifiable. We must consider whether the visa system to which we have become used to when travelling abroad is ethically defensible. It is not my intention in this article to discuss details of Italian or Brazilian legal frameworks. To simplify the argument, I use the expression “visa system” in a general way to define the kind of immigration laws which, with more or less rigour, is applied with the same logic, the same goals and the same fundamental characteristics all around the world.

The main effect of the visa system is to discriminate between people who can enter or stay in a given territory. In general terms, rules are implemented to allow richer and better off candidates to set up residence in a country, while, at the same time, denying access to less advantaged people. The system encourages the famous ““brain drain”,” which drives better educated people away from poorer countries, in search of better opportunities in the so-called “”developed”” countries. Those in greater need, who would be able to benefit the most from the opportunities in the labor markets in the “first world”, either have their entry denied, or, forced to clandestine status, lose their right to personal dignity. Instead of protecting the poor, the system penalizes them further.

Immigrants protesting in Trevisto, northern Italy (photo: Gary Houston, Wikimedia Commons)

Unfortunately, even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights legitimizes, in its Article XIII, this discriminatory system, when it restricts only to the “borders of each State” the basic right that people have to freedom of movement. We accept that restriction as something normal, as if the fact of crossing a border or having a different nationality made someone less human and, as a result, entitled to lesser rights.

The infraction of the illegal immigrant is not to satisfy the requisites of a law code which can hardly be considered legitimate, since it was created without his own participation and with the explicit goal of keeping him out of a given territory. Theoretically, when there is an unjust law, people interested in the subject may protest and try to change it. But the peculiarity of immigration laws is that the people directly touched by them are not heard in their elaboration and do not have, by definition, the right to vote on them. The opinion of clandestine immigrants does not matter for politicians. Prevails the egoistic and xenophobic notion that the system would somehow protect the interests and jobs of the local population.

It so happens that, in Italy and in rich countries in general, immigrants perform basic and essential tasks – security, cleaning, care of children and elderly, and so on – which the local population does not want to do anymore. But since there is great demand for such services that only immigrants are willing to provide, legislation is not able to block the entry of foreigners, but has the convenient and perverse effect of reducing their wages. Those in irregular situation are forced to work for very little pay, giving up, involuntarily, rights conquered by workers from rich countries back in the 19th century.

It is a sad irony that the visa system is usually implemented on the basis of what is benignly called “reciprocity”, in the best tradition “an eye for an eye”. Therefore the same kind of legislation, with the same criteria, ends up being put into practice even by poorer countries, who would have great interest in completely abolishing such system. That is what generates situations like what prevailed in Brazil until June 2009, where about sixty thousand foreigners – mainly Bolivians, Peruvians and Chinese – were living, in the 21st century, in conditions similar to slavery. The amnesty announced by the Brazilian government deserves praise for giving back to those immigrants rights they should have always had for the simple fact of being human. But the fact remains that Brazilian immigration laws led to that situation in the first place.

The easier and quickest way of ending illegal immigration once and for all is not to have more repression and tougher laws. It would suffice simply to abolish the visa system and give people the same freedom of movement that, to a great extent, goods and financial capital already enjoy. While that does not happen, Christians have a moral responsibility to raise their voice in defense of immigrants. In Italy, the Catholic Church has opposed the new law that criminalizes irregular immigration, but its protests seem not to have had any effect yet. In Brazil, that would be a worthy cause for Christian congressmen, who would be able to put aside the mere pursuit of egoistic interests of their respective religious organizations. Such initiative would also be an important witness for Brazilian society, which – often with good reason – sees Christians, and evangelicals in particular, with growing distrust.

– July 2009



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