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The unknown immigrants

While this week, the United States is discussing giving residence to 11 millions of illegal immigrants, a similar amnesty is unthinkable in Norway.



[the paperless] There are several reasons why it is a matter of time before hard-working "Edward" and his family, which you can read about on the previous pages, are thrown out of Norway. The Storting agrees that such as Edward, wife and children of 1 and 3 years should not stay in the kingdom.

The irregular immigrants meet in a different way in Norway than in amnesty countries such as Spain, Italy, Greece and Belgium.

Or as in the United States. The recent US debate has shown that there is great support for the proposal to grant amnesty to over 11 millions of illegal immigrants in practice. The US Senate is scheduled to knock through its resolution by Monday. In this way, millions of Latin American immigrants will be eligible for residence in the United States. Although they have sneaked into the country illegally.

It will not be a purely "blanket amnesty", as the US in practice implemented in 1986. Nearly five million illegal immigrants stayed there.

Now in 2006 there is more talk of an "earned amnesty": the Crimean background is checked, taxes are repaid, and work is needed for six years before citizenship is granted.

Regardless, illegal immigrants have a completely different status in the United States than in Norway. As late as last week, the Senate decided that the illegal immigrants should now receive social assistance even if they have been given the job by using forged documents.


The contrast to Norway is enormous. At the recent clean-up in 2002, which was called "Operation Advent," the police went to eviction action in the middle of Christmas.

"Hunting immigrants all over the country" read the headline in Adresseavisen. According to anonymous sources in the police, there should be 20.000 so-called illegal immigrants in the country. The high estimate was used as an argument to clean up as soon as possible. Admittedly, the police found only 230 people without a valid stay, but presumably there are a few thousand shady lives in today's Norway as well.

Some are criminals. Others are like Edward and his family: hard-working immigrants who most want to create a better life.

But regular labor immigrants are no longer allowed to stay in Norway. This was how it ended at the beginning of the 1970 century following cross-party parliamentary decisions. In practice, therefore, one is defined as "illegal immigrant" if one is not a political refugee or granted the asylum application. The term "irregular immigrant" becomes such a more precise term, as Self Help for Refugees and Immigrants points out.

But the question is, what is going on with these people who live their shadow lives outside the regulated state society? The Norwegian line has so far been mainly based on closing the eyes to the phenomenon.

When the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers (NOAS) proposed during the Advent campaign in 2002 to grant amnesty, this was referred to as "a fire torch". As well as being noticed quickly was blown out by both the SV and the Labor Party. Only the idea of ​​amnesty seems totally foreign. Signe Øye, Ap's immigration police spokeswoman, said she had not "heard that other countries have granted amnesty to illegal immigrants".

- I did not know this, and I do not understand the logic, Øye told VG in 2002.

This reaction corresponds with that which now comes from the political parties in this week's edition of Ny Tid.

Belgian protest

But amnesty is no more uncommon, also in Europe, than both Spain and Italy have had six amnesty rounds each since 1985. By the year 2000, the EU had legalized about 1,75 million immigrants. Since then, over 3,5 millions of new people have stayed.

Spain had its last amnesty round between February and March 2005. 692.000 undocumented immigrants applied for residence, 573.000 received amnesty. The Spanish Minister of Labor described the measure as a great success: 90 percent of the black economy was thus integrated into Spain's official economic growth.

The 30 year old Alvaro Salgado from Ecuador explained to Reuters why an amnesty was the best for all parties:

"The papers make you go from not existing to becoming someone," Salgado said.

Also countries such as Portugal, Greece and Italy have several times legalized the "shadow immigrants", regardless of the government's political position, precisely to curb crime and get more orderly. Now in May a nationwide protest campaign is underway in the churches of Belgium for the irregular immigrants. The requirement is that they be allowed to stay. Admittedly, the government will not comply with the requirements, but if nothing else, Belgium has a press group (UDEP) which will speak to the undocumented immigrants.

This is not the case in Norway. No one fronts the irregular immigrants. The struggle in the public debate is on those who have, or should have, legal requirements for residence. Even NOAS does not fight for those who do not meet Norway's legal residence requirements.

There are several reasons why Edward and his paperless family are left without strong helpers in today's Norway. The generally strong belief in the social democratic welfare state reduces the tolerance of those who do not fit into the system. A strong belief in lawfulness automatically weakens the legitimacy of those who do not follow the law.

That is not to say that an amnesty is unproblematic, despite the frequent international use of the instrument. One is the question of justice: In practice, an amnesty rewards those who violate the country's immigration rules, and punishes those who follow them, as one of the arguments in the United States has been.

Political suicide

The second dilemma is the widespread fear that even more illegal immigrants will be crossing borders. The paradox is that Europe's population will decline from 728 millions today to 653 millions in 2050, according to the UN's moderate estimates. In this perspective, Europe may just need to legalize its irregular immigrants in order to keep the population and the economy up. This has probably also been one of the thoughts behind the amnesties in Italy and Spain, two countries that are in danger of diminishing with millions of inhabitants in the years to come.

Norway, too, will be hit by the wave of older people, but higher birth rates will weaken the argument to legalize irregular immigrants. Norwegian parties also face the following electoral political challenge, as Demetrios Papademetriou of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington has put it:

“European politicians know it will be political suicide to stand up and say that their countries need to bring in more immigrants because the workforce is going down. But behind closed doors there are real discussions. "

Although Norwegian politicians – from the Socialist People's Party to the Progress Party – officially deny that there is any other solution than to expel the "illegal immigrants", this is such an emotional issue that it can easily be controlled by mood waves in the public debate.

So far, this has not been a topic, but the debate may come to light if the disadvantages of many shadow immigrants emerge wider. Then the dividing lines, even in Norway, may not be going between the traditional right and left sides.

Even without considering the needs and demands of irregular immigrants, the question remains:

Does Norwegian society benefit most from leaving them outside society? Would it be better to intensify the hunt to throw them out? Or will it be fair to grant amnesty in Norway as well?

So far, the answer to Edward and his family is: Stay hidden if you want to stay in the country. The most likely situation ahead is the status quo.

Dag Herbjørnsrud
Dag Herbjørnsrud
Former editor of MODERN TIMES. Now head of the Center for Global and Comparative History of Ideas.

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