ROME – Caught in a crossfire between political parties of both right and left, the pope’s man in the Italian bishops’ conference is currently trying to make a principled argument for allowing almost 1 million undocumented minors in the country to obtain citizenship.
To use the term “caught in the crossfire” is only slightly hyperbolic. As the Italian Senate prepared to debate the bill last week, one senator from the far right Northern League was asked to leave after yelling profanities. A minister hurt her arm falling from a railing and another was injured by a mob of senators holding banners reading, “Stop the Invasion” and “Italians First!”
— la Repubblica (@repubblica) June 16, 2017
Italian law bases citizenship mostly on ‘ius sanguinis’ (right by blood) meaning based upon a person’s parents’ Italian citizenship, not whether or not they are born in Italy. Foreign citizens can obtain citizenship through marriage or after 10 years of residing legally in the country, four if a member of the European Union.
A foreign citizen born in Italy must wait until he is 18 years of age before he/she can apply for citizenship. The new law currently debated in the Italian Senate would change this last aspect introducing what is being called a ‘moderate ius soli’ (right by soil), which allows children born in the country to gain citizenship if one of the parents has legal permanent or long-term residency.
The law also introduces a peculiar addition, the ‘ius culturae’ (right by culture), which allows minors born in Italy to become a citizen if he/she completes five years of formative training or six years of school.
The Italian Bishops’ Conference, or CEI, has given its support to the law early on, and its Secretary General, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, has underscored that according to a survey by the British think-tank Demos, three Italians out of four are favorable to the new citizenship procedure for minors.
“It’s obvious that this gives hives to those who have based their entire consensus on the opposite,” Galantino said during a conference in the northern Italian city of Bologna.
According to the opposition, this could not be a worse time to usher in this new law that would profoundly change Italy’s position in terms of welcoming and integrating migrants. On Monday, June 19, more than 1,000 migrants and refugees landed on the coast of the Italian region of Calabria: 158 are women, 28 of them pregnant, and 20 are unaccompanied minors.
Meanwhile terrorist attacks in Europe are a staple in the morning news and amidst rising tensions the distinction between migrant, refugee, and terrorist becomes increasingly more blurred in political rhetoric.
A lot has been said about the rise of populist far-right movements in Europe, which have been acquiring votes thanks to their hard line on migration and border control. In Italy, the Northern League has made a strong anti-immigrant stance the bulwark of their party and strongly opposes the law.
“It makes sense that some would be opposed” to the new law, Galantino said. “But I see that some have changed their mind and now politicize for the sole purpose of chasing their own success, because they only have their own interest at heart.”
Galantino was referring to the Five Star Movement, a populist party that normally holds left-leaning positions, but abstained from voting when the ‘ius soli’ law passed in the Italian Parliament. Its leader, Beppe Grillo, wrote in his blog that the movement will abstain once again in the Senate, calling the law an “Italian-style mess” and invoking further debate within the European community.
Abstention counts as a vote ‘against’ in the Italian Senate.
Galantino’s statement alludes to the movement’s recent sharp turn toward a less migrant-friendly stance.
“I observe that lately party-politics are often chasing anti-politics. But problems can only be solved with good politics, not by following who yells the most,” Galantino said.
“Everyone knows how some people first said one thing, then said another. We also know that it’s important to look into the law and understand that some things can actually be changed, but they can’t be changed by jumping on tables, can’t be changed by saying profanities. They can be changed by looking at the text and stating that it’s important that a child born in Italy learn the Italian language and history well,” Galantino added.
But CEI’s open arm approach has earned hard-hitting rebukes from Northern League representatives. “The words of certain high prelates who betray the values of the Church are unbearable,” said Massimiliano Fedriga, the party’s spokesman in the Chamber of Deputies, criticizing the Vatican’s “deafening silence on issues such as assisted suicide and civil unions” in the past.
The coordinator of the League, Roberto Calderoli, conveyed “amazement” at CEI’s position because it “has rarely taken a seemingly hard stance on problems afflicting Italians.”
Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, challenged the Secretary General of CEI to a tête-à-tête. “Since Monsignor Galantino is doing politics, I invite him to a public confrontation. I would propose two solutions: Either the Church welcomes [refugees] at no cost, renouncing immigration income, or Galantino steps aside, maybe even resigns.”
Salvini was referring to the public assistance given to Church-run facilities that help migrants. But there were those who came to Galantino’s defense.
“The CEI has always distinguished itself in the protection of the weakest and does not deserve these attacks,” said the President of the Senate, Pietro Grasso. “There are still those who don’t believe that one can defend both the unemployed and the migrant at the same time.”
Speaking at the same event as Galantino, the Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that the time has come for “children born in Italy to be considered Italian” and urged the legislative branch to quickly pass the new bill.
Though the Vatican has yet to make a formal pronouncement on the matter, “it’s obvious that we would like the dignity of those coming to our country to be recognized and therefore that those born here in Italy be given citizenship,” Archbishop Angelo Becciu, the Vatican’s Deputy Secretary of State, told the Italian Senate on June 19.
“As Monsignor Galantino said, as a Church we are always close to those in need, who are weak and in need of protection,” Becciu said.
Grasso said he is not worried about the law not being passed by the Senate despite the League’s obstruction and even suggested a vote of confidence on the issue if necessary. Meanwhile the opposition is preparing for a referendum to remove the law if it passes in the Senate.