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Germany

Immigration Debate Divides German Parliament

Hardly an issue in Germany generates as much emotion and debate as immigration. On Thursday the discussion fired up again when the government presented its newest immigration bill to parliament.

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Facing an uncertain future

How much immigration can Germany handle? Who can and cannot come? What’s good for the economy, for society, for the rights of persecuted individuals?

These are just some of the questions the German government addresses today when Interior Minister Otto Schily presents his new immigration law before the parliament. For the governing coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens, regulating immigration is one of the most important reform projects for this legislative period.

Originally it looked like Schily’s bill would pass without difficulties, but then the junior coalition partner, the Greens, made suggestions for liberalizing certain portions of the proposal. The opposition Christian Democrats (CDU) and Christian Socialists (CSU) then came along with 79 suggested changes, without which they promised to veto the law. The Liberals (FDP) also announced they would reject the law because of the government’s failure to enact changes in an unrelated anti-terror package up for parliamentary debate.

Now Schily and his SPD party colleagues are caught in a bind. On the one hand they want to find an acceptable compromise and check the immigration reform off their list of election time promises. On the other hand, the SPD is unwilling to give way on what it sees as an important step on the way to improving the situation of foreigners in Germany and regulating immigration.

Regulation and control

The new immigration law is designed to regulate and control the number of immigrants allowed into Germany each year. It is based on four main points: worker’s immigration or the so-called Green Card for highly qualified foreigners, restricting the age limit for children joining parents from 16 to 14, expanding the asylum laws to cover people persecuted by non-governmental groups or those discriminated on the basis of gender, and improving the efforts to integrate foreigners in German society.

"This draft legislation enables us to better control and limit immigration. It enables us to better assure the prosperity that we take for granted," Schily said about his proposal.

The conservative CDU, lead by faction leader Wolfgang Bosbach, accused the SPD proposal of not doing enough to limit immigration. Germany is not a classic immigration country, Bosbach said, and its ability to absorb immigrants is not unlimited: "What we need is not more immigration, but more integration."

As it stands now, the bill includes provisions for integrating foreigners. And if passed it would require all immigrants residing permanently in Germany to attend classes in the German language and civic fundamentals. It would authorize the state to pay for German language courses, and seminars on law, culture and history.

Schily criticized the CDU for blocking the immigration bill in parliament, saying that the opposition was not interested in compromise, but rather hindering immigration.

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