Rajoy's Catalan chief courts controversy with immigrant focus

Alicia Sánchez-Camacho running on platrom that proposes to restrict undocumented migrants

Alicia Sánchez-Camacho says she does not understand why her political opponents have taken a hard-line stance against her party's proposals to regulate immigration in Catalonia. The 43-year-old Catalan Popular Party (PPC) leader is running for regional premier on a controversial platform that, among other things, proposes to impose restrictions on undocumented migrants, such as preventing them from registering on the municipal rolls if they do not have their residency papers in order.

It has proved such a controversial proposal that some in the ruling Socialist national government have warned that it could be illegal because current law states that all people living inside Spain's borders must be registered. Registering on municipal rolls is the key to using public services such as health.

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"We want [immigration] to be legal and orderly. We are not proposing anything that goes against the rules," she said during a written question-and-answer session with EL PAÍS readers recently.

In her opinion, "it is irresponsible that other parties don't want to come up with any solutions to this issue, and that our determination is generating a lot of criticism."

The PPC has put immigration at the forefront of the campaign as a solution to high unemployment and keeping the government from doling out money in jobless benefits. Some of the PPC's tactics have backfired on the party. A few months ago, Sánchez-Camacho was forced to apologize for a party pamphlet that suggested immigrants were to blame for high crime levels. The handout included a photograph of a banner that read: "We don't want Romanians."

The party also found itself on the defensive when a videogame was included on the party's website this month showing Sánchez-Camacho, in Lara Croft-style, riding a seagull and shooting down immigrants and supporters of Catalan independence. The game was pulled amid claims it was merely a test version.

But the PPC isn't just focused on the migrant issue. It also wants to thwart the independence drive that appears to be growing stronger each election year among the supporters of Artur Mas' center-right CiU Catalan nationalist bloc. Mas is favored to unseat the ruling Catalan Socialist Party (PSC)-led coalition in Sunday's race.

"We won't give any vote of confidence to a CiU which is showing itself to be more independence-driven," she said.

Born in Barcelona, Sánchez-Camacho grew up in Blanes (Girona). She studied law and public administration and worked as a temporary judge. She has also occupied a number of government positions, including director for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health at Work (NISHW). In New York, she served as the Spanish Consul's labor attaché and later in Washington as a representative at the Organization of American States (OAS). Spain is a permanent observer nation.

She was elected to the Catalan parliament in 1999 representing Girona and in 2004 won a seat in Congress. In 2008, she became PP leader Mariano Rajoy's personal pick to head up the PPC, running against Montserrat Nebrera, who is now also running for regional premier as leader of the Alternativa de Govern party.

Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy and the PP's candidate in Catalonia, Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, at a party rally on Thursday in l'Hospitalet.
Popular Party leader Mariano Rajoy and the PP's candidate in Catalonia, Alicia Sánchez-Camacho, at a party rally on Thursday in l'Hospitalet.EFE

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