A new law makes undocumented migration a crime, punishable by up to four years in jail
EU home affairs ministers are gathering in Brussels to discuss a number of proposals on immigration, attempting to set a common approach across member states.
Eyes will also be on Italy after the country passed a controversial law on Wednesday (23 July) that would make undocumented migration a crime punishable by up to four years in jail.
A total of 161 Italian lawmakers in the country's senate supported the measures, while 120 were against and eight abstained.
According to media reports, the legislation will introduce a new criminal offence—"illegal immigration"—punishable by six to four years in prison. The law also states that property rented to an undocumented immigrant can be confiscated.
The maximum period an immigrant can be kept in detention after illegally setting foot on Italian territory will be extended to 18 months—which is in line with EU-wide rules on returning non-EU nationals who do not or no longer fulfill the conditions for entry, stay or residence in a member state.
"Foreigners committed 60 percent of the attempted homicides, 60 percent of the robberies [and] 82 percent of the muggings," Sandro Mazzatorta of the anti-immigrant Northern League party told the the BBC, referring to his perceptions of the situation in the city of Brescia.
The country's interior minister is also a member of the Northern League, in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's governing coalition. Mr Berlusconi returned to power following snap parliamentary elections in April. Fears over irregular immigration featured prominently during the campaign.
But the tough line has come under heavy criticism from the country's left-wing opposition political parties as well as the Catholic Church and human rights organisations.
According to Anna Finocchiaro from the Democratic Party, the newly adopted law undermines the principle of equality. "I don't know why someone should be punished more because they're an illegal immigrant," she said, Euronews.net reports.
Other opposition politicians have warned it could also aggravate racism in the country.
Immigration will also be a central theme when EU home affairs ministers gather in Brussels to consider the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum—an idea presented by the French EU presidency earlier this month.
The pact is to set out common EU guidelines for how to cope with the rising numbers of migrants wanting to make their home in Europe. Current estimates suggest there are some eight million undocumented migrants in the EU.
In addition, ministers will discuss a Brussels-drafted law, suggesting that all employers who hire undocumented entrants should be sanctioned. The European Commission believes that tougher penalties, along with an unified approach across the EU, are vital to crack down on clandestine migrants.
In order to alleviate the pressure of irregular migration while at the same time trying to fulfill Europe's hunger for workers, the meeting will look into the conditions of entry and residence of non-EU nationals suitable for vacant positions requiring high levels of education.