Crossing the border

Crossing the border

"Where is your visa?" the immigration officer demanded at the airport outside Barcelona, Spain.

A young Moroccan woman, who didn't speak Spanish, shrugged her shoulders as if she didn't understand the question.

"Your visa? Your identity card?" the officer implored.

I was standing in the line next to her and the immigration officer looking at my U.S. passport stopped to help his co-worker.

We were waiting to board a flight to Morocco. She was leaving but had no proof that she had entered Spain with a visa.

As a U.S. citizen, I didn't need such proof and then let me leave Spain and board the plane for Morocco.

She was held up and later on I saw her board the flight. They let her leave but probably will ban her from re-entering next time.

This example illustrates to me the universal complexities of immigration and border patrol.

This summer I crossed borders into Italy, Spain and Morocco. These are all countries dealing with their own immigration issues.

In Florence, where I taught a month-long course, it's interesting to note that the Central Market is filled with immigrant vendors. This is where tourists go to buy scarves, leather bags, and other tourist trinkets.

But there are few Italians working in the outdoor market especially selling leather.

"There are no Italians no more working in the Central Market," said Laura Gori, who runs a leather school, Scuola del Cuoio, in Florence.

I noticed that many of the small convenience stores in Italy are owned by immigrants from Asia.

Italy also is struggling with a recent influx of immigrants from Tunisia and Libya, who arrived after the political turmoil erupted earlier this year.

At one point Italy's interior minister even threatened to send armed forces to stop the flow of migrants.

Conservative Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, dealing with his own personal controversies and a financial crisis, has campaigned against immigration.

"The Left's idea is of a multi-ethnic Italy," Mr Berlusconi said, according to the Times of London. "That is not our idea, ours is to welcome only those who meet the conditions for political asylum."

However, the leftist Prime Minister of Spain has been more sensitive to immigrant issues. As many as 2.5 million immigrants have arrived in Spain since José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero took office in 2004.

Spain also declared an amnesty in 2005 designed to bring 700,000 workers out of the shadows. They had a three-month period to apply.

Spain also has high levels of immigration from North Africa. But immigration there has decreased there in recent years for the same reasons it has in the United States - the recession. Plus Spain has almost a 20 percent unemployment rate.

Two years ago it implemented a Voluntary Return Plan to pay immigrant workers if they return to their homeland and don't return for at least three years. The plan attracted fewer immigrants than expected and has been viewed with mixed results.

The idea was that some of these migrants could use that money to open a business at home. But there is little evidence that happened as the countries they returned to in North Africa or Latin America also are in financial crisis.

Europe has open borders as you travel. For example, entering Spain from Italy they did not stamp my passport. But as immigration increases in Europe this idea of open borders has come under debate.

There are no easy answers. Countries in Europe are debating immigration as much as they are in the United States.


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  • The problem with Europe is that there are too many foreigners.

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