The Africa News

Ogongo's blog

Minister is wrong; immigrants don’t have same rights as Italians

When Home Affairs Minister Roberto Maroni said that regular immigrants have the same rights as Italians, I found it difficult to believe what he was saying.

There is something terribly wrong with the minister’s statement. Being the minister whose ministry is in charge of immigration, Mr. Maroni certainly knows that regular immigrants don’t have the same rights as Italian citizens.

He in fact identified one of the rights which immigrants don’t have: The right to vote. As if he didn’t consider it an injustice to deny immigrants the right to vote, Mr. Maroni went ahead to promise that as long as he’ll be the Home Affairs Minister, immigrants will never have right to vote.

It is very easy to identify areas in which regular immigrants don’t have the same rights as Italians. However qualified they are, the law bars immigrants from being employed in certain sectors. For instance, the Civil Service, which is one of the biggest employers in the country, is not accessible to immigrants.

Regular immigrants only count as long as they have jobs. The moment they become jobless, they lose the right to live in the country and must therefore leave. This means that they don’t have the right to benefit from all allowances the State gives to Italians who have lost their jobs.

Any Italian family with low income has a right to apply for family allowance. This is not the case with immigrants. In order to qualify for family allowance, an immigrant must have been living legally in Italy for at least five years and be a holder of the EC long-term residence permit (carta di soggiorno).

A child born of Italian parents is automatically an Italian citizen, while a child born of immigrant parents is automatically a foreigner. Yes, a foreigner in one’s country’s of birth!

Well, the list of rights immigrants are denied is so long.

But now let’s concentrate on the one identified by Mr. Maroni: the right to vote. What’s wrong with granting immigrants the right to vote? This is a fundamental human right which should not be denied to someone simply because he/she is an immigrant.

Denying someone the right to vote is an effective way of denying the person the right to take part in collective decision making. It is a way of denying the person the right to decide on issues directing affecting his/her life.

Politicians constantly remind immigrants that they must integrate in the society. Now, if one lives in a given area, shares the same problems with Italians in the same area, fully takes part all local activities, works, pays taxes, pays social security contributions, why deny him/her the right to vote? What’s wrong with allowing someone the right to have a say on the way his/her city is governed, on the way his/her taxes are spent?

Why do some politicians fear granting immigrants the right to vote?

As sad as this may appear, to most politicians people only matter if they have the right to vote. Therefore, denying immigrants the right to vote is a carefully thought out strategy of making them irrelevant before politicians.

It is easier to negotiate with politicians if they know you have a right to either vote them in or out of office. The right to vote opens the door to so many other rights. You are nobody before politicians if you don’t have the right to vote.

There is an unfounded fear especially amongst right-wing politicians, that immigrants tend to vote for left-wing parties. They therefore fear that granting immigrants the right to vote would mean giving all those votes to the left-wing parties.

Aware of the countless problems immigrants face in this country, I strongly doubt if they would vote for politicians simply because they belong to the right-wing or the left-wing. Of late it has in fact become so difficult to know the difference between left-wing and right-wing politicians.

Immigrants would vote for those who have their interests at heart, those who listen to them and know their real problems. Above all, they would vote for those who have a concrete plan which would enable them and all people in this country live a dignified life.

Apart from the fact that it is unjust to deny immigrants the right to vote, politicians should be aware that granting immigrants the right is the key to rectifying many other injustices they are subjected to.

The right to vote is not a favour to immigrants, it is their fundamental human right.

By Stephen Ogongo Ongong’a

Maroni: Immigrants will never have the right to vote