Spanish politics

Let undocumented migrants work on construction projects: Madrid mayor

Manuela Carmena’s plan aimed at addressing current shortage of manual labor and giving people with irregular immigration status the opportunity to earn a legal wage

Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena visits the Lavapiés neighborhood on Monday.
Madrid Mayor Manuela Carmena visits the Lavapiés neighborhood on Monday.CARLOS ROSILLO

The mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena, is to propose giving undocumented migrants the right to work legally on public works projects undertaken by City Hall.

The idea, which will be presented this week to Employment Minister Fátima Báñez for approval, aims to address a current shortage of manual laborers and give people with irregular immigration status the opportunity to earn a legal wage.

“City Hall has more than 30 projects underway but they tell us that there are not enough workers. It is incomprehensible that we have people who can’t work. I am going to put this proposal forward to the Employment Ministry tomorrow,” said Carmena on Monday.

The mayor said it was a “contradiction” that there were people who wanted to work but couldn’t because they did not have a residency permit.

“They want to work legally and we hope logic will help us,” she said. “We have designed courses for builders and qualified workers,” she added, explaining that her government wants to follow the German model of Dulgung, or tolerance, which advocates integrating non-residents into the workforce with temporary work permits.

Madrid City Hall, controlled by Ahora Madrid – a left-wing coalition made up of Podemos, United Left, Equo and Ganemos – will look at including the proposal in a broader plan to provide non-residents with a local identity card. This initiative, proposed by the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) last year, would offer undocumented migrants a “neighborhood card” that would allow them to access municipal services such as libraries and health centers. It is a plan that has had success in cities like New York and is currently being organized by Ahora Madrid’s equality counselor Marta Higueras.

Visit to Lavapiés

Carmena announced the proposal in Lavapiés on her first visit to the neighborhood since the death of a Senegalese street vendor sparked clashes with police earlier this year.

Before making the announcement, the mayor spoke with the members of two associations and entered a local mosque. She also met with members of the Bangladeshi community but not with anyone from the Senegalese community, which has been most active against police operations given the constant game of cat-and-mouse between its nationals who work as street vendors, known asmanteros, and the police. The mayor also spoke with protesters who were chanting “Lavapiés is migrant and anti-racist.”

Before her visit, the Popular Party’s spokesperson in City Hall, José Luis Martínez-Almeida, criticized Carmena’s “performance of do-goodism.” Ciudadanos counselor Begoña Villacís said the visit came “too late.”

Social work instead of fines

As the rain poured down, Carmena was gifted an umbrella and plastic flowers by two members of the Bangladesh community. “We gave it to her so she would take away the fines we can’t pay,” they said ironically. Moments later, Carmena announced to the press that she was looking at a measure to “substitute” fines (of around €150) given to street vendors who sell legal products – such as umbrellas – and can’t afford to pay for social work. “We have spoken of the possibility of substituting fines for work that could be to the benefit of them or the city,” she said.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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