Illegal — White Collar — Immigrants

Donald Trump, in declaring himself as a Republican presidential candidate, lambasted Latin American countries for sending rapists, murderers and other criminals across our southern borders. Naturally Trump’s speech provoked strong reactions across the board, but what about across the Atlantic, what does illegal immigration look like?

Recently Europe has been flooded with immigrants crossing the Mediterranean from Africa not just illegally, but on dangerous poor excuses for boats that often sink, causing thousands of causalities.

The aforementioned examples are the ones that are looped over and over again in the mainstream media, perpetuating them as the only form of illegal immigration. Though what if there was indeed another face to illegal immigration? One that was maybe more… white collar?

Spain’s reputation has taken a hit recently thanks in part to the mainstream media. As it has become synonymous with the global economic crisis and an example of a country hitting rock bottom because of it. Also it is a society where immigration of any kind is a fairly recent phenomenon.

After General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship ended the country started to see immigrants come in for the first time, albeit a relatively low influx of immigrants, mostly from Latin America. Again when Spain’s economy was booming pre-crisis in the mid-2000’s, even more immigrants poured in from all over the world.

While the construction sector was a large employer of people from abroad in those pre-crisis times, another sector is a common employer of workers without necessary working papers, language teaching.

As Spain consistently ranks towards the bottom in Europe in terms of number of people who speak foreign languages — especially English — a greater demand has arisen for native speakers of many foreign languages, with English being a priority. Despite British and Irish citizens having no restrictions working in Spain as they are fellow European Union members, the demand still exceeds supply.

As a result many Americans have come over to fill that void. While many programs and avenues exist for Americans to live and work legally in the country, as the US is not a part of the EU there are more restrictions than permissions. Therefore many come over, as anyone with a US passport can come over as a tourist, and end up staying past the 90 days permitted any American tourist.

Many are college educated young men and women fully aware that they are working en el negro or under the table in the country. Many just want to enjoy the open air restaurants, tapas and nightlife. Some actually are looking to immigrate, and set up their lives here.

Edward Paul started out by capitalizing on the amazing Madrid nightlife. Originally from New Jersey, he came to Madrid in 2011 at the behest of his best friend after teaching English in South Korea. “He said that there’s money to be made out here, so I came.”

Paul and his friend began working the nightlife scene, promoting for various bars and clubs in the city before they started their own nightly pub-crawl. As Paul networked within the industry, he partnered up with a local businessman and together they opened a bar near the city center.

As his bar’s business has grown Paul has been able to focus on other endeavors, foraying into the local acting scene after a number of years focusing on other things. “Through the bar I was able to host a lot of events revolving around art,” Paul said. “That sort of reignited my passion for acting.”

Playing to Spain’s need for native English speakers, New Orleans native Jeb Burke survived living under the radar in Madrid for over three years before returning home. After taking up a master’s course in Switzerland, a position working in the financial sector brought him to the city initially. As the country really started to feel the effects of the financial crisis though, Burke was laid off, and thus no longer had a valid visa. Consequently, he had to improvise on the fly on what to do next.

“I really loved the city, and I was in a relationship at the time,” he said. “In the end I decided to stay, you can say I stayed for love,” he adds with a smile.

Without much delay Burke got his Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate that qualified him as a teacher. Soon after he teamed up with a former student to launch his own teaching service, called Idiomas Por Tu Zona (Languages in Your Neighborhood).

Even though Burke had no visa, Idiomas Por Tu Zona’s success was not inhibited and enabled him to employ several teachers as well as allowing himself to do some freelancing on the side. But even with a thriving business, no doors opened for Burke in terms of being able to get legal residency in the country.

“You would think it would help,” he says about opening a business. “But then you would have a lot more foreigners paying for business licenses just so they could get legal residency.”

Spain has traditionally been fairly loose with its law enforcement, whether in reference to its open container laws, labor or immigration. Thus many Americans, who officially have no legal right to work, are able to earn a living and in Paul and Burke’s cases start successful companies.

But those days may be drawing to a close. With unemployment hovering around 25% and the country needing all the tax revenue it can get, immigration officers are making surprise visits to nightlife establishments and language academies, hoping to crack down on illegal employees.

The Spanish Ministry of the Interior estimated that illegal immigration rose by about 70% last year, with over 12,000 people getting caught trying to cross illegally into Spain in 2014. Images of migrants jumping the border fences in the border towns of Ceuta and Melilla are often the images that are associated with illegal immigration, but there are many examples of immigration although illegal, having a positive impact.

As such the world needs to stop attributing crime and negativity to so illegal immigration. When immigration critics such as Donald Trump spit out remarks without any basis they should keep in mind many of these ‘illegals’ are in fact not criminals. Instead they are educators, businessmen, community builders and much more. Hence we should be trying to facilitate integrating them into our society, not keeping them out.