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IMMIGRATION AND LOCAL POWER
BY Joan-Anton Benach MANAGING EDITOR

Among other issues and events, the current political debate centred on the "Ley de Extranjería" (Law on Aliens), the protests of the so-called "sin papeles" (immigrants without identification papers) shutting themselves in several churches of Barcelona, the deplorable statements made by people of unquestionable public prominence followed by counter-statements that did not always delve deeply enough into the real problems, a preoccupying report issued by the "Syndic de Greuges" (Catalonia's Ombuds-man) concerning the integration of the youngest immigrants from countries outside the European Union into local schools, etc... have succeeded in causing a tremendous stir that has swept through the first quarter of 2001 as fierce public comments on the "new immigration" phenomenon were voiced.
At this point, it proves easy to resort to the most primary dialectic of action and reaction, attack and defence, apology and condemnation. It is obvious that this phenomenon extends beyond the domain of urban sociology reserved to demographers and other specialists. Given that immigration is now an increasingly visible feature of our city's life, activities and urban landscape, there is a public awareness of it that makes people express their own opinion and adopt attitudes that range from tolerance to belligerence, translated in terms of either acceptance or rejection, so that, beyond considering the presence of foreigners as the central element of Barcelona's traditional "cosmopolitanism", people are forced to adopt and express unavoidable attitudes : they therefore contemplate what is inevitable, what they believe to be possible and what they consider to be desirable.
Even though the phenomenon of immigration is still far from being as far-reaching in Barcelona as in some other European cities, it seems as though, all of a sudden, it has aroused phobias, uncertainties and fears that people did not dare to express openly until recently. Now, in view of these "flowers of evil" that had never before taken root in our society, we ought to face up to that new reality and remain serenely confident that the positive effects of immigration - which the most apocalyptically minded factions never dare to refer to -, as well as the problems which stem from margination, explotation and the existence of ghettos, and the distortions that a lack of control over the settling of the flows of immigrants would produce, will eventually be approached from a global perspective that will make it possible to plan out an effective integration-orientated policy for the short-term and medium-term future.
It is therefore necessary for the different administrative bodies to reach a large-scale agreement that, on the basis of the analyses and surveys carried out at the level of the Spanish state, would also take into consideration Catalonia's cultural and social idiosyncrasies, along with the objective conditions and characteristics that distinguish Barcelona and other cities in the surrounding Metropolitan Area, including the prospects for development in that area. We are referring to a pact which should stem from basic consensus and which should not take into account mechanical criteria such as political quotas or the predominance of one administration over the other. All things considered, the "weaker" authority in both administrative and juridical terms is the one that is meant to foster the most effective solutions, those which are to exert the most immediate influence on the immigrants. On all relevant issues, ranging from the steps immigrants have to take in order to have their names registered in a census - a procedure which proves to be of great significance in this case, since registration in a census somehow serves to counterbalance the juridical injuries and contradictions in the new "Ley d'Extranjería" - to matters related to housing, work, social services and culture, the voice of municipal local power, the voice of the city councils, ought to be the first to be heard and their requests for resources should be duly met. Here, long-standing prejudices and pointlessly entrenched positions serve absolutely no purpose. Nowadays, niggardliness - or that "nominalistic" obsession which has at times made people in power brandish the flag of "rightful authority", even though they lacked the capacity and will to take effective action - would just serve to make it harder for us to deal with the most important challenge to social cohesion and peaceful coexistence we are presently faced with.