Saturday, April 30, 2011

Strict Immigration Laws 'Save Denmark Billions'

Denmark's strict immigration laws have saved the country billions in benefits, a government report has claimed. The Integration Ministry report has now led to calls among right-wing populists to clamp down further on immigrants to increase the savings.

The extremely strict laws have dramatically reduced the flow of people into Denmark in recent years, and many government figures are delighted with the outcome. "Now that we can see that it does matter who comes into the country, I have no scruples in further restricting those who one can suspect will be a burden on Denmark," the center-right liberal integration minister, Søren Pind, told the Jyllands Posten newspaper.

Pind was talking after the ministry's report -- initiated by the right-wing populist Danish People's Party (DPP) -- came to the conclusion that by tightening immigration laws, Denmark has saved €6.7 billion ($10 billion) over the last 10 years, money which otherwise would supposedly have been spent on social benefits or housing. According to the figures, migrants from non-Western countries who did manage to come to Denmark have cost the state €2.3 billion, while those from the West have actually contributed €295 million to government coffers.

'Restrictions Pay Off'

The report has led to jubilation among right-wing politicians: "We now have it in black and white that restrictions (on immigrants) pay off," said DPP finance spokesman Kristian Thulesen Dahl. The DPP will almost certainly exploit the figures in future negotiations over the Danish economy.

But the report has sparked outrage from opposition parties like the centrist Social Liberal Party, which dismissed it as undignified and discriminatory. The party's integration spokeswoman, Marianne Jelved, said: "A certain group of people is being denounced and being blamed for our deficit, being made into whipping boys." She added: "We cannot classify people depending on their value to the economy. That is degrading in a democracy that has a basic value of equality."

Still, the announcement has not come as surprise. The right-wing populist DPP, which has been working with the ruling center-right coalition government of Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen since 2001, has in the past made its aims very clear: a complete halt to immigration into Denmark from non-Western countries. "A Somali who is no good for anything, that is simply not acceptable," said DPP leader Pia Kjærsgaard. Similarly, center-right liberal Prime Minister Rasmussen has also said anyone who would be a burden on Denmark is not welcome in the country.

Right-wing populists have even demanded a ban on satellite dishes so that TV stations like al-Jazeera and Al Arabiya cannot be beamed into Danish living rooms. There have also been suggestions to exempt migrants from the minimum wage -- supposedly to make it easier for foreigners to gain access to the labor market.

The small Scandinavian country already has the strictest immigration and asylum laws in Europe. For example, foreign couples are only allowed to marry if both partners are at least 24 years old. The number of asylum seekers and relatives of immigrants seeking entry into Denmark dropped by more than two-thirds within nine years as a result of the tough laws.

A Decisive Issue in Denmark

But things may soon get pushed even further. Elections are due to be held this fall, and the ruling parties apparently want to put forward even stricter rules, driven by the xenophobic rhetoric of the right-wing populists. In polls, the approval ratings of more liberal politicians have fallen, and the opposition center-left Social Democrats have promised not to change current immigration laws if they win the election. Immigration will always be a big issue in Denmark -- almost 10 percent of Denmark's 5.5 million people are migrants -- and the issue was a decisive one in the last election, in 2007.

In November, the government agreed to stricter laws and made the entry of immigrants' spouses more difficult. Only those who collect enough "points" may come to Denmark in the future -- with points being determined by factors such as academic qualifications and proof of language proficiency. In addition, the equivalent of €13,000 must be deposited with the state in the form of a bank guarantee to cover any future public assistance. Socially deprived areas with a disproportionately high number of immigrants will be subject in future to a so-called "ghetto strategy" designed to prevent high concentrations of foreigners in public housing areas. Migrants will be assigned housing, and three-year-old children who do not speak Danish well enough will be required to attend state child care.

Some immigrants have already turned their back on Denmark voluntarily. Increasing numbers of Somalis are moving away, especially to the UK, the Jyllands Posten reported on Thursday, because of discrimination.


MA: Immigration program comes under fire

Critics of a program that will allow federal authorities to check the immigration status of all criminal suspects in Massachusetts clashed here last night with a smaller number of supporters of the initiative.

The program, called Secure Communities, is active on a pilot basis in Boston and is scheduled to be implemented nationwide in 2013. Under the program, fingerprints of all suspects arrested in the state will be sent to the US Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Detainees could face deportation if they are in the United States illegally.

But more than 200 activists blasted the program last night at a forum hosted by Governor Deval Patrick’s administration at Chelsea High School, saying it will result in the deportation of immigrants who do not have violent criminal records, among other pitfalls.

“It’s unfair,’’ Franklin Peralta, 33, of Jamaica Plain said before the meeting. “There are laws in place already to deport serious criminals. This is deporting innocent people.’’

But Christen Varley, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, said the program targets dangerous felons, which critics are not acknowledging.

“These people here today don’t understand the distinction’’ between the targeted felons and the rest of the immigrant population, she said. “It’s not in their interest to have criminals running around either.’’

The Patrick administration has held a series of meetings in communities around the state to discuss the program. Passions ran high in the lobby of the school before last night’s meeting, as opponents chanted slogans including, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, deportation has got to go,’’ and held signs protesting the program.

The mood during the meeting was equally charged, as spectators repeatedly booed when Mary Beth Heffernan, the state’s public safety secretary, and Curtis Wood, another state public safety official, discussed the program.

Tempers flared during the public comment period when supporters and opponents traded barbs and shouted each other down. The topic is especially poignant in Chelsea, which is a sanctuary city, meaning local authorities cannot ask residents about their immigration status.

Robert Cappucci, 40, of Medford said he backs Secure Communities and said of the illegal immigrants living in the country, “all 12 million of them are criminals.’’

“My best friend died eight years ago because illegal immigrants brought illegal drugs into this country,’’ he said, prompting a round of boos and catcalls. “The law must be obeyed.’’

The boos turned to cheers moments later when Lyn Meza, 65, of Chelsea said the program will harm cities and towns in the state. “It’s an attack on our community,’’ she shouted into the microphone.

Immigrant rights activists said they fear the program will discourage immigrants from reporting crime and increase racial profiling.

Heffernan said that law enforcement officials around the state have acknowledged that profiling is a problem and that training programs have been launched to combat the issue.

Gladys Vega — executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, which advocates for immigrant rights — said Secure Communities will lead to profiling, mistrust of local police, and less crime being reported. “Governor Patrick should opt out’’ of the program, she said before the meeting. A program like this, she added, will take local police cooperation a step backward.


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