Only half of the illegal immigrants who were confined to one of Spain's nine Immigrant Internment Centers (CIE) last year were eventually deported, the Popular Party spokesman for the Congress Interior Committee, Conrado Escobar, revealed at a conference on Tuesday.
Of the 13,241 people locked up in a CIE in 2011, just 6,825 (51.5 percent) were returned to their country of origin, said Escobar, who was attending a conference organized by the General Council of Spanish Bar Associations (CGAE) to discuss the future of the centers. That means almost 6,500 people were deprived of their freedom without a repatriation ever materializing.
The CGAE says internment of illegal immigrants is not a punishment, but a precautionary measure to guarantee deportation when it seems necessary - according to Supreme Court doctrine, illegal stays should first be punished with a fine. Confinement should only be ordered when there are guarantees that repatriation can be carried out.
Commissioner general for immigration, Emilio Baos, explained that the main problem when it came to carrying out deportations was a lack of documentation. "In order to organize someone's return, the person needs to be recognized as a national by the authorities of the corresponding country, and a lot of the time that is not so simple."
When dealing with someone without a passport, authorities first have to investigate where they are from and persuade a state to issue documentation for the person in question, or issue permission for them to travel there.
These procedures are complex and take time. The fact that almost half of CIE inmates end up not being deported has nothing to do with a lack of diligence on the part of the authorities, but - say NGOs and the CGAE - the treatment of people who, on the whole, should not be deprived of their freedom without guarantees that they can be deported.
"It is necessary for judges to examine in detail the possibility that, in practice, repatriation is viable," said Aitor Esteban, the Basque parliamentary group spokesman for the Congress Interior Committee.
"Internment ought to be an exceptional measure," says the Catalan parliamentary group spokesman for the committee, Antoni Picó i Azanza. "If 50 percent are not expelled, we have a problem."
The question of whether it is necessary and proportionate to resort to forced internment is particularly relevant as the government finalizes a new law to regulate the operation of the CIEs. The new law will not address the issue in any detail, but the secretary of state for security says it is priority to clearly establish the requirements for entrance into a CIE and ensure police have orders only to request internment for those who fulfill the conditions to be effectively deported.
The report presented on Tuesday by the CGAE also made reference to the question. "Internment is the last measure available to member states, according to the 2008 European directive on the return of nationals of third countries in irregular situations," explained Pascual Aguelo, president of CGAE's immigration subcommittee. "It can only apply to the last stage of preparing a return or carrying out the deportation process. And the disappearance of a reasonable perspective on deportation implies a loss of justification for the measure."
The CGAE believes Spain has not properly incorporated this directive, which has led to a lack of protection for imprisoned immigrants.