Economic Crisis Triggers Police Backlash Against Illegal Immigrants in Spain     Print Email

Police in Madrid have been assigned secret quotas of the number of illegal immigrants to arrest – apparently aimed at responding to Spain’s rising unemployment, according to the Financial Times. The country’s main industry, construction, has been hard hit by a real-estate collapse and its ranks reportedly contain many “undocumented” workers from North Africa, eastern Europe and Latin America.

A leaked internal police force memo gave some insight into the quota system, saying that priority should be given to arresting Moroccan immigrants because they could be “sent home quickly and cheaply.” Police were told to “hunt” for potential detainees outside their own districts if they could not meet their quotas.

This approach was branded “institutionalized racism” by a United Left party politician, but the system has been treated with “mild concern” by officials in Spain’s Socialist government. Interior Minister Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba admitted that police had been given “qualitative targets” to deal with crime, but said that they worked strictly within the law. In one police force, officers were pressured to meet their quotas and were rewarded with days off if they attained their weekly goal of 35 arrests.

Even before the quota system was implemented, authorities have cracked down on businesses that employ undocumented workers, and immigrants say plainclothes police officers prowl commuter trains, arresting those without papers. Prime Minister José Rodriguez Zapatero has said he supports the European Union’s tough Return Directive, which would allow illegal migrants to be held for as long as 18 months. Spain has the highest proportion of immigrant residents of the European Union States with an estimated 5 million immigrants out of a total population of 46 million.