Why we should chill out about ‘illegals’
Nathalie Rothschild reports from Sweden on how politicians, the police and the EU have ganged up against the non-problem of illegal immigrants.
In Sweden, the police have joined forces with the Migration Board and the Prison and Probation Service to clamp down on illegal immigration. This joint project, called Reva (an acronym in Swedish of Legal and Effective Policy Execution), involves some pretty unconventional methods for tracking down and deporting undocumented migrants. Now, finally, three years after it was first conceived, and after more and more Swedish citizens have been affected by the police’s actions, the project is stirring up protest.
Social media activists are taking to Twitter and Facebook; cultural figures are drafting petitions; anti-racists and immigrants’ rights proponents are organising civil-disobedience actions and demonstrations. Cops are practising racial profiling, critics say, and Reva belongs to a police state, not to a free society governed by the rule of law.
In Sweden, police are not allowed to stop and search individuals on the basis of their looks, their names or the language they speak. And so, in their effort to track down ‘illegals’, the authorities have had to come up with some creative ways of circumventing these rules.
From the southern region of Skåne, where Reva was first piloted, came reports of police stopping cyclists to check their IDs because, the police said, these cyclists looked like they were breaking traffic rules. There were reports of cops knocking on the doors of homes where a person had requested information from the Migration Board on how to assist asylum applicants. Police have poked their noses into workplaces, interrupted civil weddings and intensified calls at child psychiatry clinics, all in search of ‘illegals’. Members of the public have been encouraged to inform the police if they believe a neighbour is in the country illegally.
Vague suspicions of crime – and mostly petty crime – are also used as a pretence to run checks on a growing number of people as Reva is rolled out across Sweden.
Now, Reva has reached Stockholm, the capital. More specifically, it has reached the Stockholm underground system. Commuters – mostly the foreign-looking kind, it is reported – are being stopped and asked to show ID by police officers who are ostensibly clamping down on ‘gate crashing’ but who are, in fact, on the hunt for undocumented foreigners. That is, foreigners who have received deportation orders, who have had their asylum applications turned down or who have returned to Sweden after previously having been denied the right to be here.
So far, Reva has been pretty successful. The number of deportations from Skåne increased by 25 per cent in 2012 compared with 2011, before the pilot project was implemented.
When Reva came to Stockholm, the outrage reached a peak, as more and more people began to have their collars felt by cops trained in internal border control implementation. The plan is that by the end of 2014 the methods developed in Skåne will have been implemented across Sweden. But those methods do not sit easily with Sweden’s image as a non-discriminatory society with a humane immigration policy. They are, however, fully in line with the EU’s longstanding efforts to tighten its borders, which Sweden has agreed to help implement.
The anti-Reva campaigns have mostly focused on the police, who have become a symbol of Sweden’s supposed transformation into a paranoid, repressive, Soviet-style state. And at a time when an anti-immigrant party, the Sweden Democrats, is rising in the polls, anti-Reva protesters’ fears and concerns have been heightened.
But the police force, of course, is only the arm of the state and, when it comes to migration control, the Swedish state is largely an arm of the EU. Efforts to extend police powers to enforce internal border controls started long before the Sweden Democrats were a significant player in Swedish politics, and before the current conservative coalition government came to power in 2006.
In 2001, Sweden signed the Schengen Agreement, which involved granting free movement within the Schengen Area for citizens of EU member states while simultaneously strengthening external border controls. At the same time, the agreement extended internal controls to track down illegal migrants.
As one Swedish writer explains, Sweden, in consultation with the EU, implemented a new border-control law in 2004 and a new Alien Act in 2005, when the left-leaning Social Democrats were in power. Those laws form the basis of Reva, which is partly financed by the European Return Fund. The idea of implementing internal immigration checks was there from the outset; it is not a recent police creation or something that springs from the rise of the right-wing Sweden Democrats, but rather is a product of the broader outlook of EU officialdom and their supporters in social-democratic parties.
Swedish police directives, approved in 2005 by Social Democrats and in 2011 by the Conservatives, state that ‘internal immigration control is an important compensatory measure for the elimination of border controls between those countries that are part of the Schengen area and cooperation’.
The Reva project falls within the internal immigration control mandate. The idea that the police are acting like rogues, that they should use less offensive or heavy-handed methods or keep Swedish-born citizens out of the immigration control business, only addresses the surface of an issue that runs much deeper.
Defending Reva in an opinion piece for the Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet, the head of the parliamentary Committee on Social Insurance captured the real issue at stake. He suggested that migrants who are in the country illegally risk being exploited by employers or being drawn into prostitution or criminal activity in order to support themselves. In other words, far from hurting them, he suggested that the Swedish state is actually helping to save immigrants. He added that if those who are now criticising the police are in fact for free and unregulated immigration, it would be better if they stated that openly instead of ‘arguing for disrespecting Swedish law’.
It is true that immigration laws, as they look today, put those seeking a better life in a new country at risk by not allowing them to work legally or to live without fear of investigation by the authorities. And it is true that it is not the way immigration controls are carried out that is the real problem – even though the Reva methods are indeed discriminatory and insulting – but rather the restriction of free movement itself. Those of us who believe in free movement should openly argue for more liberty and less restrictions when it comes to both Europeans’ and non-Europeans’ right to move around and work in around the world.
As the old spiked slogan goes: stop illegal immigration… make it legal.