Internalizing Immigration Policy within the Nation-State: The Local Initiative of Aguaviva, Spain (Working Paper #151)

Angela S. Garcia, Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies and Center for Comparative Immigration Studies, University of California – San Diego

Introduction: The contemporary nation-state is widely understood as the sovereign arbiter of territorial entry. Immigration policy-making, in turn, traditionally lies within the centralized state’s authority. As Virginie Guiraudon observes, “controlling who enters, who stays, and who leaves national territory has long been emblematic of national sovereignty and considered a founding prerogative of the modern nationstate” (2001: 31). The state’s dominance over immigration policy is often made clear at the constitutional level. In Spain, for example, Article 149 of the 1978 Constitution dictates that the state has exclusive jurisdiction over “nationality, immigration, emigration, alienage, and the right of asylum.” Nevertheless, the creation of groups like the European Union has contributed to an upwards trend of immigration policy-making at a supranational level. Much has been made of this shift towards the externalization of immigration and asylum policy, especially in terms of the EU’s 1985 Schengen Agreement1 (Soysal 1994, Guiraudon and Lahav 2000, Zolberg 2003, Lavenex 2006, Betts and Miller 2006).

Despite this interest in the “Europeanization” of immigration policy, little scholarly attention has been paid to the emergence of immigration initiatives at the local level. In Spain, for example, municipalities throughout the nation’s rural interior are openly forming community-level immigration policies. Much of this process began with the 2000 journey of the conservative mayor of Aguaviva, a remote municipality in Aragón, to Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a first step towards combating the negative demographic trends that plague his municipality, Mayor Luis Bricio sought to recruit Argentines of Spanish descent to repopulate his town. Later, he initiated partnerships with local employers eager for cheap migrant labor in order to recruit Romanians to Aguaviva. The preferential immigration policymaking of Aguaviva’s municipal leaders has been especially influential: today 85 towns throughout rural Spain have developed and implemented their own local level policies to selectively recruit immigrants, initiating migratory flows and establishing new immigrant destinations in an attempt to curb rural depopulation. Beyond Spain, the Veneto region of Italy and the state of Iowa in the United States have attempted—with varying levels of success—to implement local proimmigration policies of their own.

The internalization of immigration policy indicates a new shift in the site of policy-making. Community-specific immigration initiatives move the realm and  scope of immigration policy downwards and create an important, unexplored tension between national and sub-national levels of government within the state. The migration literature frequently addresses the supranational pressure that buffets nation-states “from above” in terms of immigration policy. I argue that local immigration initiatives are especially significant because they indicate that nationstates are also increasingly subject to sub-national pressure “from below.” Local actors are contributing to the progressively complex realm of immigration policy. This study will focus on immigration policy-making at the local level within Spain to analyze how and why these new sub-national policy pressures emerge.

Working Paper #151 »