Immigration Policy Paradoxes in Catalonia, Spain, 1985-2011: a Political Economy Approach
Before the crisis Catalonia and the rest of Spain received high volumes of immigration – of which much was “illegal”. This was despite formally strict controls – EU policy – and different governments in Madrid claiming to operate a legal model of migration – leading to identification of a “policy paradox”. In the same period immigration became problematized, which in Catalonia allowed xenophobic politics to gain popular support – despite being a territory proactive at integrating newcomers. This research aimed to identify the undercurrents of these contradictions and respond to questions on the relative impact of business, state, national and electoral factors. It surveys literature on migration paradoxes and theories, develops an original conceptual framework by critically assessing a range of radical writing, performs quantitative and secondary study of the Catalan, Spanish and European economic and policy contexts (in general and regarding immigration), and analyses findings from interviews with privileged “insiders” and observers (employers, union leaders, migrant activists and policy advisors). Policy contradictions and the problematization of immigration were identified as rooted firstly in the inherent contradictions of the capitalist state. States must ensure availability of new reserves of labour to guarantee accumulation and make savings by not having to “socially reproduce” “imported” labour power. Yet their abstract national and bounded character propels constant nationcraft – a process best performed invisibly and negatively by symbolically and practically excluding migrants from territory, rights and citizenship. Dynamics are further driven by the desire to be seen to preserve the “rule of law” and guarantee the exclusivity of national “social contracts”. Nation-building in policymaking was detected by uncovering the national-linguistic considerations behind the controversial drive to devolve immigration powers to Catalonia. Mushrooming irregularity was a result of migrant agency and the restrictive tendencies of the Aznar administration and EU. Despite the Popular Party (and EU) being notably pro-business, tensions emerged with employers who lobbied alongside unions to bring about the liberalisations introduced by the Zapatero government (2004-2011). Employers benefit from the (continued) institutional conditioning of migrant labour and irregular hiring has been tolerated – aided by a relatively informal and insecure labour market. Yet it is a mistake to see high levels irregularity simply as labour policy. The unequal and instrumental nature of European integration meant the Spanish State played a border policing role that threatened its labour needs before the crisis. This led to political “fudge” based on varying models of irregularity-amnesty-irregularity, and reinforced pro-European and Hispanist migrant recruitment tendencies. Changes in government have reshaped policymaking (and increased or decreased related tensions) but less-democratic influences were identified in interviews and a clear political economy of immigration can be identified.