Charity decries immigrant spot-checks

Caritas accuses police of showing up at its soup kitchens demanding residency papers

Catholic charity Cáritas Española, which attends to some 400,000 immigrants a year, has complained police "assiduously" show up at its soup kitchens and aid centers to check immigrants for papers. Police visits are especially frequent (once a month) in the centers in Las Palmas (Canary Islands), Segorbe-Castellón (near Valencia) and Mondoñedo-Ferrol (Galicia).

Cáritas argues that the practice is not justified by any "situation of real danger or punishment of criminal infractions," and reflects an immigration policy that treats the illegal immigrant "as a presumed criminal," even at the risk "of generating racist feelings." Cáritas has compiled information to present a complaint to the ombudsman, sources at the organization said.

On Thursday the Interior Ministry denied indiscriminate checks are being made, and that the police have never appeared in Cáritas centers to demand papers from immigrants. A spokesman told EL PAÍS that police identifications of foreigners dropped by 20 percent last year, and that in 2010 there were 13 percent fewer deportations. "The data are incompatible with these supposed indiscriminate checks," he said, adding that Cáritas has not filed any formal complaint.

Meanwhile, the organization asserts the police's attitude has caused some immigrants to fear attendance at the centers, according to Ana Abril, director of the social development section. The organization has noticed "an increase" in checks not only at its centers, but also in telephone call centers, parks and bus stations.

"Succumbing to security"

Last week the United Police Union (SUP) made a similar accusation to the congressional Interior Commission. Its secretary-general, José Manuel Sánchez-Fornet, said that each year "millions of spot-check identifications" of immigrants take place, most of which do not fulfill the conditions stipulated by the Supreme Court for an officer to demand ID from a person in the street: that he be suspected of having committed a crime, or is likely to commit one.

"Freedom has shamefully succumbed to security," he added, opining that policemen are not responsible because they are only obeying orders.

The Cáritas report also examines how the economic crisis has hit immigrants particularly hard, and aggravated prejudices against them. It mentions attempts such as that by the town council of Vic, in Catalonia, to restrict municipal registration of irregular immigrants, adding the organization faces growing difficulties in helping them to do this.

Cáritas says the crisis has fomented "overcrowding" in "just-off-the-boat" flats, either rented or owned, where many immigrants live. The rate of mortgage default, however, is slightly higher among Spanish nationals than foreigners: 0.21 percent against 0.20.

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