Last week, the government of Belgium, a small European country of 10 million inhabitants, decided to grant official papers to illegal aliens who can demonstrate that they have “sufficiently integrated” into the country. The illegal immigrants must fulfill a number of conditions, such as having lived in the country for the past five years or having worked in Belgium for at least two-and-a-half years; having learned one of Belgium’s three official languages, or having children at school.

The Belgian regularization has drawn a lot of criticism from neighboring countries, as it affects them as well. Belgium is a member of the European Union. Under EU rules, people who legally reside in one of the member states, are allowed to legally reside in the other 26 member states as well. Belgium’s critics say that its legalization of illegal immigrants will lead to “social security tourism” in Europe.

France is strongly opposed to “mass regularizations,” although it too applies them from time to time. Italy is very critical as well. Last May, the Italian Chamber of Representatives passed a bill which makes it a crime to enter or stay in Italy illegally, punishable by a fine of up to â?¬5,000 ($13,670). It also imposes a prison term of up to three years for anyone who rents housing to an illegal immigrant. Italy is trying to stem the flow of illegal migrants, even though in the recent past it too has regularized thousands of illegal aliens.

Politicians in the Netherlands, including members of Dutch Prime Minister Jan-Peter Balkenende’s Christian-Democrat Party, have also criticized the Belgian decision. The Dutch Freedom Party has even demanded that the illegal immigrants who have been regularized by the Belgian decision, be denied access to the Netherlands, although such a measure is impossible under EU legislation. In 2007, however, the Dutch government also applied a mass regularization involving 30,000 illegal aliens.

The Belgian Catholic Church, however, welcomed the decision, The Church has been pushing for a new round of regularizations since the 2000 regularization which allowed 50,000 illegal aliens to become permanent residents of Belgium. By allowing, and sometimes actively encouraging illegal immigrants, who by Belgian law, should have been expelled to settle in churches, Catholic organizations tried to put pressure on the government. Even the Papal Nuncio, the Vatican representative to Belgium, expressed support for the church squatters.

Amnesties for illegal immigrants take place at regular intervals in Europe. Each time a government grants one, they invariably say that this will be the last and that from now on all illegal newcomers will be expelled. Since 1974, Western Europe has given permanent resident cards to over 6 million illegal immigrants. France has granted three major amnesties in the past 25 years. Spain has offered six in the past 15 years. Italy voted amnesties in 1988, 1990, 1996, 1998, 2002 and 2006. All these countries belong to the European Union, where there is free movement of persons. An amnesty in one country allows the formerly illegal immigrant to move to other EU member states as well.

The largest collective amnesties have been granted in Spain, Italy, and Greece. These EU member states, which directly border Africa and Asia along the Mediterranean, hope that once an illegal alien has obtained his residence permit he will leave for more affluent welfare states such as Germany, Britain, or Scandinavia. The immigrants can legally emigrate to a Shangri-La elsewhere in Europe. And, indeed, most of them do.

During the French EU Presidency in the second half of 2008, Paris proposed an EU-wide ban on mass regularization, but this proposal was dropped during negotiations on a European asylum and immigration pact in order to win the necessary support of the Spanish government. Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero advocates regularization of illegal aliens for “humanitarian reasons.” It is one of the few topics where the far-left Zapatero government is in agreement with the Catholic Church. As many of those who are regularized in Spain move on to welfare states elsewhere in Europe, mass regularizations do not hurt Spain too much.

Nevertheless, politicians, such as Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, who claim that the regularization of illegal immigrants which they are granting today will be the final amnesty, should not be believed. Recent experience shows that amnesties do not close floodgates. They open them. Regularizing illegal immigrants attracts new illegal immigrants.

Last year, some 31,160 people requested asylum in Italy - more than double the number from 2007, the year after Italy’s 2006 mass regularization. Last year, some 13,400 people requested asylum in the Netherlands - almost double the number of the previous year, when the Dutch government regularized 30,000 illegal aliens. It is to be expected that Belgium, too, will soon see its numbers of asylum seekers soar.

The official papers in Belgium will allow the illegal aliens to stay and work in the country. The Belgian authorities think the measure will apply to a maximum of 25,000 people. Previous estimates say the number of beneficiaries may range from 50,000 to 100,000 people. Belgian government officials, however, insist that the government’s decision is by no means a “mass regularization.”

On 20 July, the government of Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, a Christian-Democrat, gave in to the pressure. His junior coalition partner, the Liberal Party which had pushed for the 2000 regularization but had opposed another regularization with the argument that the Belgian welfare system could not afford it, approved the measure.

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