By Héctor Trujillo
The economic crisis in Spain has been in full swing since the global recession began in 2008. Last year, however, the Spanish economy became a matter of global concern due to increasingly high unemployment. As always happens when unemployment rockets, many people blamed immigrants. Unsurprisingly, early last year the Spanish government decided to start enforcing a migration rule requiring Latin American visitors to obtain an “invitation letter” from a legal resident in order to enter the country. The measure provoked discontent from hundreds of Latin American visitors who were deported because they failed to meet the requirements.
Latin American migration to Spain in recent years is largely a result of the economic success experienced by peripheral European countries prior to the 2008 global recession. According to The Economist, around 1.5 million Latin Americans moved to Spain between 2000 and 2007. However, migration specifically between Latin America and Spain has a much longer history, with some periods in which migration flowed in both directions.
In May 2012, Benito Taibo, a Mexican poet and novelist, wrote an article for El País, in which he explained that during the Spanish Civil War, Mexico unreservedly welcomed thousands of Spanish refugees, thus saving their lives. General Lazaro Cardenas – who was then the Mexican president – received a telegram from Mexican authorities in Spain asking how many refugees he was willing to receive. “Let them all come,” he replied.
These Spanish Civil War refugees created a vibrant community in Mexico. They were professors, entrepreneurs, scientists, workers, and novelists, all of whom assimilated into Mexican society so deeply that it would be impossible to understand Mexican cultural and economic life in the second half of the twentieth century without their contributions. According to official data, the size of the Spanish community was very small compared to the Mexican population; only 25,000 refugees emigrated to Mexico. But this micro community left a deep imprint in Mexican contemporary history.
Today, with the Spanish crisis only worsening and youth unemployment at the absurd level of 55%, Spain has effectively begun driving away even Spanish-educated immigrants seeking better opportunities in the new continent. According to The Economist, nearly 20,000 Spaniards moved to Latin America in 2011, jumping from only 3,500 in 2005.
Spain’s treatment of Latin Americans, however, has spawned a backlash. In April 2012, a retaliatory immigration policy was implemented in Brazil, where the government responded to the “letter of invitation” needed for its tourists to travel to Spain by requiring commensurate documentation for Spanish tourists in Brazil. The “diplomatic” measure, they argued, was institute to achieve treatment reciprocity. The dispute between the Spanish and Brazilian governments – commonly known in the press as “the deportation crisis” – was settled two months later, when both countries agreed to simplify immigration requirements.
However, with the new inflow of Spaniards, one doesn’t need to listen long in the hallways of Latin American communities to overhear voices demanding that their governments take a harder line with Spanish immigrants by imposing restrictive migration policies in order to “protect local workers and businesses” from these new, young, and educated competitors.
But while migration flows do represent a measure of competition for locals, President Cardenas understood well that this competition, far from harming the economy, is actually beneficial in the long run.
Thus, in regard to this new wave of Spanish migration to Latin America, I repeat the words of General Cardenas: Let them all come!
This article appeared in the Feb. 19th print edition of The Morningside Post.