Separation Anxiety, by Robert Gould

By Robert Gould, Carleton University

On March 14th while living in Seville I listened to and watched the online EUCanet seminar Borders, Security and Migration (see below).  Thinking about some of the questions and exchanges, including the conceptualisations alluded to, I was considering writing a blog post about the anxiety surrounding a possible new border appearing in north-east Spain.  However, the following headlines in the press on the same day persuaded me to write about a different situation, one arising from irregular migration across the Mediterranean and the EU’s land borders with Africa in the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

First, it should be explained that Spain is in an election year.  In 2017 Germany had what was called a Superwahljahr, a super election year, when four of the states elected new parliaments, followed by the Bundestag elections.  In 2019 Spain is now having a GIGANTIC election year: on April 28th there are elections for the Cortes Generales, i.e. the national parliament, and also for Les Corts Valencianes, the parliament of the autonomous community (think ‘province’ in Canadian terms, or Bundesland in Austrian or German terms) of Valencia.  On May 26 there will be elections for every municipality in the country, the parliaments of 12 of the 16 autonomous communities, and the Spanish members of the European Parliament.  The basically two-party system of Partido Popular (PP: conservative and catholic) and the Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE: centre-left) has broken down.  In addition to some regional parties, nationally there are now three new parties: Podemos (far left), Ciudadanos (centre-right but without the Catholic background and in competition with the PP), and the new and far-right Vox (see the earlier blog post on this site and the commentary Vox Expaña, an alternative Identity for Spain[1]).  The party landscape is crowded, the competition is fierce, the situation is hyper politicised, and although the campaigns have not officially started, of course they have in reality.

In addition, what is also at stake is the control of the Senate, composed partly of elected members and partly of members designated by the parliaments of the autonomous communities.  At this stage in Spanish political life this control is of particular importance because of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution.  This article is modelled exactly on Article 37 of the German Grundgesetz.  With the approval of the Bundesrat, and only the Bundesrat, it gives the federal cabinet the power to suspend the government of a Bundesland if it is failing to fulfil its constitutional obligations.  Similarly, with the approval of the Senate of Spain, and only the Senate, the national cabinet may suspend the powers of the government of an autonomous community and impose its own authority.  It did so following the illegal independence referendum of 1 October 2017 in Catalonia.  The PP and Ciudadanos take a particularly hard line on Catalan separation and are already speaking of using the power again, but they can only do so if they control the Senate.

The headlines in question are the following, first from the centre-left El País, which is also the newspaper of record in Spain (and also has a small online English-language edition); then in the conservative, Catholic and monarchist newspaper ABC, (close to the Partido Popular).

El País: “El PP propone retrasar la expulsión de mujeres inmigrantes que den a su hijo en adopción”:

English edition: “PP proposes delaying deportation of pregnant migrants who opt for adoption”:

ABC: “El PP propone que las mujeres inmigrantes que den a un hijo en adopción no sean expulsadas mientras dure el proceso”:

“The PP proposes that women migrants who give up a child for adoption should not be deported during the [adoption] process”.

The headlines emerged in the context of the announcement by Pablo Casado, National President of the PP, of a proposal to create an “Act for the Support of Motherhood” (Ley en Apoyo a la Maternidad), designed, among other things, to “promote a culture of life”, to reduce the rate of abortions, increase the birth-rate, and confront what he and others call “the demographic winter” (Spain has the second-lowest birth-rate in the EU, below even that of Germany).

In other words, the headlines suggested that the migrant woman is not wanted, but her child is.  The child will be brought up Spanish, but the mother will still have to leave, having severed all legal ties to the child.  This system, the press related, already existed in the autonomous community of Madrid.  Presumably, the mother who stays in the country until the adoption formalities are completed after the birth of the child will benefit from the pre-natal, childbirth and post-natal care provided by the Spanish health service, rather than taking her chances in transit to where she came from.  This could be a significant inducement to agree to the adoption.  Another inducement would be that even if she could not achieve her dream of living and prospering in the security of Europe, at least her child could.

Elisabeth Vallet spoke of the high level of sexual violence suffered by women making the trek northwards to try to enter the United States via its southern border.  One can reasonably assume that the same thing is happening on the way north to Europe.  Undesired pregnancies accompany the migration of desperation.

In the present hyper politicized atmosphere news of the announcement led to the spread of an interpretation that the PP was promising residence papers to migrant women who gave up their newborns for adoption.  This was hotly denied as “fake news”, as it no doubt was.  Later, the PP clarified that all that was being proposed was that there would be absolute confidentially concerning the personal details of an irregular migrant given in the adoption process, and thus they could not be used against her and lead to her immediate expulsion.

Thus in this one brief episode of headlines and corrections we have a number of the conceptualisations relating to borders, migration and migrants mentioned in the seminar.  (1) The performance of a degree of compassion for women migrants and their (unborn) children (particularly following the massive demonstrations, which no politician can ignore, all over Spain on Friday 8 March in support of female equality), (2) questions of inclusion and exclusion, (3) migrants as pawns in an election campaign in which more than usual is at stake: In the face of the continuing separation movement in Catalonia and the desire to create a new border, it is being asserted on the political right (PP, Ciudadanos, and Vox) that nothing less than (4) the very existence and identity of the Spanish nation are endangered.

Sadly, one is also reminded of an earlier episode of family separations in the course of expulsions to North Africa.  When people of North-African background were expelled from the territory of what is now Spain at the beginning of the seventeenth century, in some circumstances young children were separated from their parents and had to remain behind.  This was because of the view that they could be raised as completely Spanish, thus contributing to the population numbers and in no way endangering national identity.

Seville, 15 March 2019

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1 reply
  1. Stévan Landry
    Stévan Landry says:

    After having listened to the same discussion as yourself, I had come to relate Elisabeth Vallet’s research on the gendered impacts of migration and security to much more abstract concepts of state and economy. Reading your post, it only becomes more evident: benefit to the internalized national collective is understood as pragmatic and necessary towards the objectives of the state. Compassion for those whose families are irreparably fractured is not. Moreover, these conclusions are seemingly omnipresent in all immigrant receiving countries. I am coming from an understanding of the global care chain (GCC) put forth by Dr. Arlie Hochschild in making these claims. As she explains it, the global care chain is a global economic linkage between female low-skilled labour in developing countries and low and high skill labour in developed countries. This a labour relationship defined increasingly in terms of work done without any promise of residency, as temporary workers, legally required to return home on contract’s end. The labour being done in her analysis is the unpaid, uncalculated labour that goes into all aspects of traditionally female divisions of labour: housework, child care, and in its most disturbing sense the production of new labour. In this framework, low-skilled predominantly female workers in the elder, child, and home care industries are temporarily employed in countries such as Canada and the United States. This creates a chain of diminishing value to the point where somewhere, a woman is potentially leaving critical aspects of family life with no recourse to replace their lost labour. These workers leave their gendered responsibilities at home in order to serve similar low-skill labour demands abroad, creating an emotional and economic burden reflected within their families. These GCC economic migrants, seen as essential to the recipient country’s economy, are nonetheless undergoing huge emotional tolls being done unto them by a securitized system of migration. In this case, the security is the legalization and contractual obligations surrounding temporary workers, while the border is only crossed as a transmitter of labour, not a full migrant. The degree to which this relationship is truly the case (the GCC is growing, but its full effects are yet to be seen), not to mention the real difference between forgoing motherly responsibilities and handing over your children as you have explained, sets these experiences apart by magnitude in my estimation. However, in bringing up borders and security, It is important to reflect on the systems in which we believe our relationships with migrants and the labour they provide in achieving state interests (demographic, economic, or other) justified. I do not intend to confuse our conversation of security and borders, but I still feel that it is important to include the potential injustices done by the legal, regular, “normal” migrations demanded by the global economies of today. Fortunately, this may be most fruitfully explored via transatlantic study.

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