‘Illegal Human Beings’

(Translation) If the past century was one of the internationalization of Human Rights, the Directive approved yesterday by the Parliament of the European Union is a step backwards. We have always thought that there was only one category of person. With this Directive, the subcategory of illegal human being is established.

Miguel Ángel Gimeno in El Público on another nice Directive allowing detention of ‘illegal immigrants’ for up to 18 months.

As EUObserver noted, not everyone is happy:

Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa on Wednesday called the directive “shameful,” while his Latin American counterpart, Bolivian president Evo Morales, described the new laws as “draconian.”

“The directive is not a return directive, but a directive of shamefulness, it is truly a shame what Europe has done,” Mr Correa said.

Writing in the UK’s Guardian newspaper on Monday, Mr Morales described the directive as “hypocritical, draconian and undiplomatic.”

In an open letter to the European Parliament issued on Wednesday, the Bolivian attacked what he called “concentration camps” for detainees.

“How can we accept without reacting for [detainees] to be concentrated in camps our compatriots and Latin American brothers without documents, of which the great majority have been working and integrating for years?” he asked in the letter.

Although Ireland has opted out of this area of community law, the parliamentary groups of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael voted in favour of this revoltingly xenophobic measure. Quick, someone call the Irish Independent: our Yes-promoting politicians have wound up with some strange bedfellows!

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15 Responses to “‘Illegal Human Beings’”


  1. 1 Ciarán June 19, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Hugh, sometimes a closer reading is good. Your up to 18 months is quite misleading. According to the consolidated document agreed between the Parliament and Council of Ministers, the maximum a person can be held for is six months. They can be held for a further twelve months but only where “where regardless of all their reasonable efforts the removal operation is likely to last longer [1.] due to a lack of co-operation by the third-country national concerned, or [2.] due to delays in obtaining necessary documentation from third countries.” (Art 15, para. 6).

    Strictly speaking you’re right but that’s like saying I’m going to get my house repossessed because the bank can repossess my house if I stop paying the mortgage.

    By the way, I entirely agree in general on European immigration legislation (and the more draconian versions espoused by the UK and Ireland) but that’s no cause for misinterpretation of what the Parliament is doing.

  2. 2 Ciarán June 19, 2008 at 5:20 pm

    Ooops. Sorry for the double-where.

  3. 3 Longman Oz June 19, 2008 at 5:34 pm

    Ciaran, you are right in clarifying this. I was going to do likewise, in the interest of balance!

    The other thing that I wanted to say is that some of the language in that directive seems badly open to interpretation.

    For example – Third-country nationals under detention shall be allowed – upon request – to establish in due time contact with legal representatives, family members and competent consular authorities.

    What does “in due time” mean?

    Another one…

    Oh, its only the flu, you’ll live!

  4. 4 Longman Oz June 19, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    Damn html coding!

    The passage I was citing is – Emergency health care and essential treatment of illness shall be provided

  5. 5 Ciarán June 19, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    Hi Longman. Remember that this is a directive, setting minimum or in this case maximum standards as guidance for laws to be introduced in member states. So ‘in due time’ is open for interpretation for member state governments and, if they look like they’re taking the piss, the European Court.

    On emergency health care, I’m not at all familiar with the area but wouldn’t there be a clinical definition of emergency health care? I don’t know – just guessing.

  6. 6 Longman Oz June 19, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    I accept your response entirely Ciaran & thanks. I do appreciate that directives, once effective, need to be then converted into the laws of the Member States within a given timeframe. It is just that the language seems so open-ended when phrased like that and the image of the rather horrible looking immigrant detention centres in Australia keeps running through my mind.

    Indeed, your point applies equally to the detention duration too. What I mean is that the 6 and 12 months extra are maximums, not targets. In this sense, countries with lower durations already, can keep them if they wish, while countries who have higher or indefinite durations are now curtailed.

  7. 7 Hugh Green June 19, 2008 at 10:06 pm

    OK people, thanks for the responses. First, I was already aware that the 18 months was set forth as the maximum but only under certain conditions. But I didn’t intend to make it the central point of what I was saying: I’m more concerned with the broader implications of effectively codifying people as illegal human beings. So I don’t think that the specific duration is the most important element here.

    Now, on the question of whether it’s accurate to say what I did, Ciarán says:

    but that’s like saying I’m going to get my house repossessed because the bank can repossess my house if I stop paying the mortgage

    I’d contend it’s a lot more like saying that in the UK people suspected of terrorist crimes can be held for up to 42 days without charge. 42 days is, after all, an upper limit, and can be used in only truly exceptional circumstances, subject to approval from the Home Secretary, the DPP, Parliamentary approval and so on. But it’s still seems ok to refer in general terms to ‘detaining terrorist suspects without charge for up to 42 days’. (e.g. Gordon Brown does it)

    And I think it’s ok to talk about in plain terms about the 18 months -even though it is a maximum- because of the message the decision delivers to people, in particular immigrants, about the place they are living in and their relation to other people. The Brazilian government is saying that millions of European immigrants were welcomed to Brazilian society where they are now fully integrated. But the EU is prepared to countenance locking Brazilians up -under certain exceptional conditions, but conditions provided for nonetheless- for up to 18 months for the simple fact of not possessing the approval it deems appropriate.

  8. 8 Hugh Green June 19, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    One other thing: Ciarán is right about the substantially more draconian UK and Irish policies: I didn’t wish to give the impression that Ireland was in fact better off opting out.

  9. 9 Longman Oz June 20, 2008 at 6:45 am

    Ah, Hugh! Do you honestly think that Brazil is some paradise for people who overstay their visas? A cursory check of some tourist information sites make it pretty clear that jail time is on the cards if you fail to leave when you are told to leave. Moreover, have a quick google of “brazil” and “prison”. It is not pleasant.

    Secondly, all EU countries already detain people who have overstayed their permitted time and who refuse to then leave voluntarily already. This directive, if anything, constrains countries who currently have more draconian powers than what this returns directive speak of. I am not saying that this makes things right, but it is something.

    In truth, I find the principal of confining people for an extended period of time while mere paperwork gets sorted out quite disturbing. However, in criticising one approach to addressing this issue, what is a realistic alternative?

    According to RTE, we are talking about 8 million people here across the EU (I do not know what the source of their figure is). No matter how liberal your viewpoint is on this form of immigration, that does require some action on the part of each State. I say this because many of these must surely end up in the black economy as a result of being undocumented and are therefore vulnerable to some form of exploitation or other. This cannot be right either.

  10. 10 Hugh Green June 20, 2008 at 7:37 am

    Do you honestly think that Brazil is some paradise for people who overstay their visas?

    No, I gave the reaction of the Brazilian government as an indication of the general reaction internationally. What Brazil is actually like doesn’t make any difference: two wrongs don’t make a right.

    I am not saying that this makes things right, but it is something.

    If your point is to say that at least the EU isn’t like Berlusconi’s Italy, your something isn’t much.

    However, in criticising one approach to addressing this issue, what is a realistic alternative?

    Doing away with the category of ‘illegal immigration’ altogether seems realistic. Maybe not palatable on the EU’s terms perhaps, but what’s realistic about a system of nations and borders? Should one be obliged to be realistic about the unrealistic? Is it realistic, for instance, that you or I can go and live in France or Germany as we wish, but someone who is already there living and working there may not?

    No matter how liberal your viewpoint is on this form of immigration, that does require some action on the part of each State. I say this because many of these must surely end up in the black economy as a result of being undocumented and are therefore vulnerable to some form of exploitation or other. This cannot be right either.

    Well, if it’s likely to help them, allowing them to acquire the necessary documentation seems preferable to deportation. A good basic principle would be: if you live here and work here, then you belong here.

  11. 11 Longman Oz June 20, 2008 at 8:47 am

    I was obviously not implying that two wrongs make a right, Hugh. Rather I was just amused at the pot calling the kettle black.

    On the second point, up to now several EU countries have undefined periods of detention and several more have periods in excess of 18 months. Whatever your view on detention, a step in the right direction has to be better than no step at all. That said, it is really not a massive point that I am making here.

    Finally, I am quite comfortable with the concept of anyone gainfully employed being allowed to stay. However, as I am sure you know quite well, it is not that simple…

    (1) There is often the Catch 22 situation of it being hard to be legally employed without proper documentation, although I can see how some properly regulated sponsorship system could work.

    (2) However, the real problem is what of those who are not gainfully employed or what about all the others that try to come, knowing that if they can land a job they are good to stay? You could see how “eight million” could become “eighty million” in no time.

  12. 12 Hugh Green June 20, 2008 at 10:45 am

    First thing is I think I was unintentionally prescriptive in saying live and work. I don’t expect children to work so that they can stay here, and parents who look after children may not be involved in gainful employment, but they are working, so they should of course stay too.

    Well, I think 1 and 2 are predicated on the basic legality of the current set up, that is, it is legal for countries to classify people as illegal. I think you could argue that by the same token, people could classify countries as illegal. At any rate, if they can land a job, what problem could you have with eighty million coming, apart from the fact that they’re here rather than there? But I digress.

    There’s an interview at the end of the English translation of Ethics by Alain Badiou, in which he makes the following point, which I find quite hard to disagree with:

    The guiding principle concerning these questions should be as follows. We still belong to a historical era dominated by states and borders. There is nothing to suggest that this situation is going to change completely in the near future. The real question is whether the regulations [réglementation] at issue are more or less consistent with egalitarian aspirations. We should first tackle the question of how we treat the people who are here; then how we deal with those who would like to be here; and finally, what it is about the situation of their original countries that makes them want to leave. All three questions must be addressed, but in that order. To proclaim the slogan ‘An end to frontiers’ defines no real policy, because no one knows exactly what it means. Whereas by addressing the questions of how we treat the people who are here, who want to be here, or who find themselves obliged to leave their homes, we can initiate a genuine political process.

    So, I think that in that light, you can see why I think the de facto category of ‘illegal immigrant’ is a retrograde development.

  13. 13 Longman Oz June 20, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    I don’t mind saving the child labour debate for another day. All for it though.

    Okay, while I would like to support the sentiment of that citation, I once more come back to the point about what do you do with those people that do come here and there is no work for them to do?

    For me, this is the crux of the matter and one that I have no easy solution to.

    P.S. Following your post above, I did peek at your “about” page, so you can knock that one off the total! 🙂

  14. 14 Hugh Green June 20, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    I don’t mind saving the child labour debate for another day. All for it though.

    What, child labour? Me too. I’m planning to get the nipper out digging the garden by the time he’s 3. 🙂

    What do you do with those people that do come here and there is no work for them to do?

    I don’t think you can answer that in general terms, so I don’t have much of an answer to it either, though I would guess most migrants will concentrate on places where they can find work. That is, it’s no fun being unemployed in a foreign country.

    It’s telling me that my About profile has received 45 (well, 44) hits today, when it never gets any. Hope it isn’t the Student Loans Company.

  15. 15 stet June 30, 2008 at 9:10 am

    Hi there. It’s interesting to notice that few people seem to be bothered by the fact that the only case in which the term “illegal” applies to persons instead than to acts (a killer, for instance, does an illegal act, but is not illegal as a person) is immigration. A thought on that here:
    http://testsociety.wordpress.com/2007/08/29/illegal-persons/


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