In and out: Stories between borders

Racism, Migration and Social Struggle in Spain
by Mario Espinoza Pino and Julio Martínez-Cava Aguilar
(Complutense University Madrid)

1. Points of departure

Photo credit: “Imagen del Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros (CIE) situado en el barrio madrileño de Aluche” by María Rodríguez.

Photo credit: “Imagen del Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros (CIE) situado en el barrio madrileño de Aluche” by María Rodríguez.

Spain is one of the geo-political borders of the European Union with the northern countries of Africa. Because of this, the south borders of Spain have special features in a political and almost ontological sense, since their limits construct a radical division between in and out: inside Schengen –the space without barriers– and the EU, out of Schengen and the “European Dream”. This division affects dramatically the identity, biography and legal situation of the people that cross physically the Spanish borders of Europe, especially the vital narratives of the people that come from Africa in a non-regularized fashion. Spain, as periphery and gate to Europe, imposes a repressive/symbolical/administrative wall between the “civilized center” and the “backward countries” of the south. The borders and the law on foreigners are respectively the physical and juridical tools to classify, stop and filter the “waves of migrants”. Though there are also other ominous and shameful tools (like de CIEs or Foreigner Internment Centers).

In the current context of crisis (2007-2014), the right-wing government of Spain (Popular Party) has used the foreign policy to produce, in the same way as other countries of the north, an ideological and Eurocentric image of migration and national borders. Without doubt, this deceptive “imaginary of migration”, full of dangers for the national population, is absolutely hypocritical and, in its intimate core, racist and neo-colonial. When there’s need of cheap non-qualified labor force, as it was the case of the Spanish property market (1997-2007), the governments are more or less “tolerant” (because migration is conceived as a short term trend and only from an economic perspective). In these circumstances, migrant workers increase the entrepreneurial benefits. Their administrative situation (always juridical and socially vulnerable) fosters the capitalist cycle of profit. But when the crisis explodes, migration ceases to be the fuel of “development” and it becomes an “obstacle” for the same objective: an uneven development that no longer requires the old services of the migrant labor force.

It seems that –in practice– the capitalist States of Europe, with their rhetorical discourses about citizenship and integration, can only understand in two ways the non-communitarian migration that come from the south: a) As an opportunity for business or economic profit when there is need of non-qualified labor (cheaper, easier to exploit by the entrepreneurs) b) As a social or cultural disaster and an obstacle to development in times of recession (an interested and populist straw-man created with the objective of avoid political responsibilities in the economic conjuncture). These two trends, both of them Eurocentric, are supported by the juridical condition given to southern migrants: always precarious “half-citizens”, never citizens of full right. Today the trend in Spain is obvious: the country is inside an economic crisis, so the “migrant question” is on the agenda.


2. Foreign/Migrant: constructing otherness

In the current stage of the crisis, the Spanish administration has strengthened its foreign policy with repressive measures and restrictive legal reforms. These reforms are only applied to migrants, not to foreigners. While the word “foreign” means communitarian white/northern foreigner, “migrant” involves a dense meaning, in which identity, culture and different social dispositions come into question. The word “migrant” is frequently used in Spain to tag the individuals from South America or Caribe (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina and Dominican Republic), Africa (Morocco, Senegal, Mali and Mauritania), east Europe (Rumania, Bulgaria) and Asia (China) that live in Spain. When the administration talks about northern/white foreigners, they assume that they’re talking about someone “similar to us” or, better, to an “ideal or imaginary us”: European, “civilized”, liberal, democratic, educated, no-problematic and legal person. A model of modern citizenship. But when they talk about migrants, the government and the media always tend to represent them as “problematic (or exotic) subjects”, especially the migration from Africa, Romania and certain parts of South America. In this social classification, organized from a Eurocentric hierarchy (A. Quijano), there are different social structures involved (class, ethnic group, culture and gender) and, as the background, the whole history of Europe and its colonial silences (M. Trouillot), including the own national past.

Migrants are represented in an essentialist and stereotyped fashion by the administration and the media, like they were part of closed cultures and traditions, totally (or almost totally) different from the national population. There is a sort of “cultural relativism” in this way of thinking that generates “differential racism” (E. Balibar): because we are from different cultures, and we have different values, beliefs and objectives in life, we have to learn to live in different worlds of interaction. We have to tolerate the other, coexist and respect the limits, because the continuous mixed encounters of different cultures at the end only produce tension and could lead people into racism (in the form of the so called “cultural conflict”). Though reality is richer than these segregationist discourses, with many social examples that challenge this racist point of view, it is true that the context of crisis is leading part of the national population to xenophobia. Nowadays, Spanish people from different social strata and political ideologies (from left to right), have the tendency to associate bad images to the migration phenomenon: delinquency, social competency, danger, insecurity and so on. And something which deserve a renewed reflection, there is an increase of youth racism (OBERAXE report, 2011; SOS Racism Report, 2013).

The opposition between “European citizenship” versus the “backward people” of the great south is presupposed in many of the discourses of the administration, which –in the most favorable cases– gives to the regular migrant the possibility of “assimilation” or a “paternalistic pseudo-integration”. In these two situations the migrant is treated as a “cultural disabled”, always in exam by the institutions because of his or her “problems of adaptation”, but never considered as an equal citizen. When the administrative situation of the migrant is irregular, stay in Spain can easily become a nightmare. As we said above, Spain, as a State involved in the FRONTEX policy, has different tools to control borders. But the definition of what a border is has to be broadened: a border is not only the physical-political or geographical limit of the country, a border is something that defines types of identity and the possible worlds of interaction of a migrant; one can live always “in the border” inside a country because of an non-regular administrative situation. The crisis has reinforced the police hunting of people “without papers”, condemning them into a constant state of precariousness and insecurity (that goes beyond the legal boundaries). We have assisted to police raids based in color/ethnic profiling, to the preemptive identification of people because of their skin color, to the chase of irregular migrants of a determined nationality in specific dates (because the administration has prepared an expulsion flight to their country), etc. And we also have assisted to the hunt and internment of non-regular migrant inside the CIEs (Foreigner Internment Centers), racist jails that suspend the civil and human rights creating spaces of exception and segregation inside the Spanish territory. It is necessary to remember that non-regular migrants have only committed an administrative fault, not a crime.

The result of the practices of the Spanish state against non-regular and regular migrants (not white/northern foreigners) is clear: exclusion, stigmatization and a racist consideration –because of their supposed cultural inferiority– that they are not, they cannot be, equal citizens.


3. Research: stories between borders; methodology.

Our research will deal with the issues of racism, migrations and the social struggles involved in the anti-racist fights in Spain. The general frame of the research is –at least methodologically– socio-anthropological, and it is based in a critical reading of Spanish foreign policy and, going beyond the national borders, in a theoretical critique of western/european capitalism. Our research tries to recover the migrant experience, always stereotyped by the media, to understand what migration means subjectively for its agents: for the people that dares to cross the borders. We want to give relevance and prominence to the subjective motivations, experiences, struggles of resistance and identity problems of migrants that live their everyday life between different borders (cultural, social, juridical borders).

We have planned the research in six phases:

1) After consulting theoretical bibliography, juridical texts and different studies about the topic of racism in Spain, we have designed a framework inspired by four sources: a) The marxist general critique of neoliberalism (D. Harvey) b) The analysis of the reflexive sociology to the issues of migration, poverty and its reproduction inside neoliberalism (P. Bourdieu, L. Wacquant, A. Sayak) c) The critique of eurocentrism by the post-colonial critique (A. Césaire, F. Fanon, A. Quijano, M. Trouillot, B. de Sousa Santos) d) The reflections about of migration, rights and territory made by Saskia Sassen. We think that the intertwinement of these different traditions will allow us to understand with accuracy the object of our study.

2) The second part of the research is an analysis of the Spanish law on foreigners and the different dispositives or tools that the State uses to control the inner and outer borders. This analysis is contrasted with news, cases and with the practice of the administration in border’s control.

3) The third part of the research consist in several in depth interviews to different anti-racist collectives and specialists in migration, constructed through our analysis of the Spanish law on foreigners and a questioning of the government’s control of the borders. We focus or interviews into the topics of CIEs, institutional/everyday life racism, racist aggressions and expulsions. We will try to visit a CIE.

4) The fourth stage of the research divides itself into two sets of in depth interviews: ten interviews to migrants of different nationalities and another ten to persons born in Spain. As we said above, we want to recover the experience and stories of migrant people that live in Spain from several years. We will do the interviews to different generations of migrants, to understand better the transformation of their biographies when they came to Spain and the details of their everyday life: What were their motivations to come? Do they still “feel the borders” in their everyday interactions? Do they feel racism or exclusion? In which places or situations? What do they think about CIEs? Do they experience problems of institutional racism? And what about their situation inside the crisis? On the other hand, the interviews to Spanish people want to deal with the issue of an increasing xenophobia and racism in the national population. We want to test the degree of this xenophobia and the perception of migration.

5) The fifth stage will consist in an analysis of all the material, trying to arrive to significant conclusions about the general topics of the research.

6) In the last phase, we will compose synthesis of our fieldwork and research for its presentation in the Summer School.

Fragment of an interview
[Talking about the CIEs, Foreigner Internment Centers]

“[…] Worse than jail… [The CIEs] are worse than jails. Officially they’re not jails, because the people that are locked up, in their majority… though the current discourse of the government is that only people that has committed a crime are locked up… the CIE is a place where they lock you until they can expel you, theorically… later, a great part of them are not expelled and they leave them on the street, but with an “expulsion order” and after being until sixty days jailed in very deplorable conditions. However the government –the administration– recognizes that these persons aren’t there for have been committed a crime, but for an irregular administrative situation, therefore it can’t be a jail. In practice [The CIEs] are equal to jail in respect to the deprivation of liberty, etc. but worse than jails in terms of the exercise of rights. It has a poorer infrastructure… well… currently they [the government] have approved a regulation that until today hasn’t existed, and nevertheless the regulation continues to give the police discretional power. There are documented cases of abuses, bad sanitary and hygienic conditions and there have been cases of deaths caused by the lack of medical attention, as well as the cases of Samba Martine (1977-2011) and Idrissa Diallo (1991-2012) in Barcelona, recently it has been another case in Barcelona, it’s terrible… as you rightly stated, there are many people that have still not noticed, they don’t know, that all of this exists […]”.

Roberto, SOS Racismo Madrid