America is not the only nation debating amnesty for illegal aliens. The issue is a hot topic across the Atlantic as well. On June 8, the Dutch Parliament approved a proposal submitted by Nebahat Albayrak, a Turkish-born member of the Dutch government, to give permanent resident cards to everyone who has been living in the Netherlands since 2001. Albayrak, the junior minister of Justice, who holds dual Dutch-Turkish citizenship, thinks that some 30,000 will benefit from her amnesty, though no one actually knows how many illegal immigrants are in the country.
If previous amnesties in other Western European countries are any indication, the Dutch may be in for a surprise. Two years ago, when Spain announced a collective amnesty for illegal immigrants, the government in Madrid expected that the measure would apply to 300,000 people at most; 800,000 showed up.
Belgium had a similar experience in January 2000, when it granted papers to everyone who had been living in the country illegally for the previous six years. Brussels thought there were 20,000 illegal aliens, but 50,000 applied for amnesty, providing documents, such as doctor’s prescriptions, to prove that they had been living in Belgium in 1994. In 1998, when the Italian government announced an amnesty for what was expected to be “fewer than 38,000” illegal immigrants, it had to hand out residence permits to a staggering 220,000.
Amnesties for illegal immigrants take place at regular intervals in Europe. Each time a government grants one, they invariably say that this will be the last and that from now on all illegal newcomers will be expelled. Of course that never happens.
Since 1974, Western Europe has given permanent resident cards to over 5 million illegal immigrants. France has granted three major amnesties in the past 25 years. Spain has offered six in the past 15 years. Italy voted amnesties in 1988, 1990, 1996, 1998, and 2002. Last year, it agreed on another one that allowed over 500,000 people to stay—a figure the government now wants to expand to 1 million. All these countries belong to the European Union, where there is free movement of persons. An amnesty in one country allows the formerly illegal immigrant to move to other EU member states as well.
The largest collective amnesties have been given in Spain, Italy, and Greece. These EU member states, directly bordering Africa and Asia along the Mediterranean, hope that once an illegal alien has obtained his residence permit he will leave for more affluent welfare states like Germany, Britain, or Scandinavia. The immigrants can legally emigrate to a Shangri-La elsewhere in Europe. And, indeed, most of them do.
In the Netherlands, however, the situation is different. The tulip kingdom by the North Sea is as close to paradise as a welfare seeker can get. Those who obtain permission to stay in Holland do not move on, as they have already tapped one of the richest welfare bonanzas on the continent. Hence the puzzling question: why have the Dutch, who had relatively strict immigration policies until the present government took over last February, suddenly decided to open the floodgates? One of the reasons is the role played by someone granted an American green card last year.
Dutch politics resemble a pendulum. From very liberal until the turn of the century, they swung dramatically to the right in the wake of the murders of Pim Fortuyn, a homosexual politician who favored immigration restriction, and Theo van Gogh, an anarchist moviemaker, in 2002 and 2004 respectively. In the resulting shock, the Dutch had to face the fact that many of their newly arrived neighbors were unwilling to accept Holland’s traditional liberal tolerance.
Consequently, the strict policies of Rita Verdonk, the minister for integration and immigration in the previous center-right government, initially drew almost unanimous support. “Nederland is vol” (The Netherlands are full), the Dutch said. “Iron Rita,” a former prison director and head of the state security services, aimed to discourage any non-European fortune seeker from entering, and for a while, the Netherlands had the most uncompromising immigration policies in Europe. Verdonk, a member of the center-right Dutch Liberal Party VVD, even expelled alleged asylum seekers who had already acquired permanent resident cards and sometimes even Dutch citizenship. She took their cards and their citizenship away if they had lied about their real identities or true reasons for entering the country. According to Verdonk, there was no place in Dutch society for people who cheated their way in.
Though Verdonk was reviled by political opponents as a far-right populist, she retained her party’s support until May of last year when it was discovered that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the most famous Dutch politician at home and abroad and a member of Verdonk’s own VVD, was one of the cheaters who had lied their way into the Netherlands and Dutch citizenship.
Ali had come to the Netherlands in 1992 and had obtained political asylum because she claimed to have arrived directly from war-torn Somalia. In reality, although born in Somalia to a prominent, wealthy family, she had been living in Kenya and Germany for the previous 12 years. To disguise her real identity, she used a false name, calling herself Ali instead of Magan, her real name. She also gave the Dutch authorities a false date of birth.
While in the Netherlands, Magan, from then on known as Ali, studied politics. A few years later, she became a Dutch citizen. She gained a reputation as an outspoken critic of Islam and of religion in general and as an activist for women’s rights, including abortion. In 2003, she was elected a member of the Dutch Parliament. One year later, she became a global icon of resistance to Islamism when van Gogh was murdered by a Muslim fanatic who left death threats for her on his body. Van Gogh and Hirsi Ali had just finished making a movie entitled “Submission,” about discrimination against women in Muslim societies. They were planning a second movie, “Submission 2,” about the “Muslim intolerance towards homosexuals.”
For the liberal Dutch, and indeed for many elsewhere in the West, including Reader’s Digest, which elected her “European of the Year,” Ali became the Jeanne d’Arc of liberal secularism against Islamism. But when, in May of last year, Dutch television revealed that Magan aka Ali had given false information to enter the Netherlands, Minister Verdonk declared that the immigration rules applied to her as much as to others. Since Ali had committed “identity fraud,” she had not legitimately acquired Dutch citizenship, Verdonk argued. She moved to annul her citizenship, whereupon Ali resigned from Parliament. The pro-immigration but anti-Muslim politician announced that she was leaving for the United States to become a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
In the Netherlands, the sudden departure of the “European of the Year” brought a political backlash against Verdonk, who was blamed for chasing the “most famous and courageous Dutch citizen” away. When Iron Rita refused to resign, the government collapsed. The next general elections were won by the Left, which promised an amnesty for illegal aliens as well as for those who had been turned down by Verdonk.
The new Dutch government, a coalition of the Christian-Democrat Party and the Labor Party, is the first government in the Netherlands with immigrant ministers. In addition to Nebahat Albayrak, there is also Ahmed Aboutaleb, secretary of social affairs and employment, who holds dual Moroccan-Dutch citizenship. Both politicians belong to Labor, a party that caters for the immigrant vote.
Rita Verdonk, now marginalized even within her own party, has warned that Albayrak’s amnesty might attract up to half a million asylum seekers. But the government is not inclined to listen. Verdonk’s previous post has gone to Ella Vogelaar, another Labor member, who says that the Netherlands, so far a country of Judeo-Christian traditions, is gradually becoming a “Judeo-Christiano-Islamic” society, a process she considers beneficial. Wouter Bos, the Labor Party leader, who is the current Dutch minister of finance, recently said that he wants to turn the Netherlands into an international center of Sharia banking, next to Dubai and London.
Minister Albayrak told Parliament that the amnesty for everyone who has been living in the Netherlands since 2001 implies that illegal aliens who entered after 2001 have to be expelled. But she knows that this is not going to happen because the government needs the collaboration of the local authorities to track down illegal aliens. Many mayors, especially those belonging to Albayrak’s own Labor Party, have already announced that they will refuse to assist the government in their search for the immigrants.
Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, The Hague, and Eindhoven—the five largest cities in the country—refuse to “organize manhunts on illegal immigrants.” Ernst Bakker, the mayor of Hilversum, the town where Fortuyn was murdered, told the Dutch press that providing the list of illegal aliens to the government amounts to “betrayal, informing.” It reminds him of “Nazi methods.”
Some Americans might be inclined to think that an amnesty for illegal immigrants who have already been living in the country for many years might be a good idea, on the condition that it be the final one. But the European experience teaches us that governments always underestimate the number of people who can apply for an amnesty, and that amnesties do not close floodgates, they open them.
Paul Belien is editor of The Brussels Journal.