Residency Documents for All! Notes to Understand the Movement of Migrants in Barcelona

By Varela, Amarela | Refuge, Fall 2009 | Go to article overview

Residency Documents for All! Notes to Understand the Movement of Migrants in Barcelona


Varela, Amarela, Refuge


Abstract

This text focuses on a concrete example of the political struggle of migrants which, beginning in the last decade and continuing to the present, occupies Catalan public space in the form of an extremely novel social movement led by migrants from the post-colonial peripheries. These migrants, upon installing themselves in the Spanish state and more specifically in the city of Barcelona, choose to escape the position of victim assigned to them by the "miserablist" representation of immigration to become agents and political subjects. This article is a socio-analytic reconstruction about this social movement which demands the unconditional regularization of all migrants without papers who live in Spain.

Abstract

Ce texte etudie un exemple particulier de la lutte politique des migrants qui, depuis la derniere decennie jusqu'a l'heure actuelle, occupe l'espace public catalan sous la forme d'un mouvement social extremement novateur mene par des migrants issus de la peripherie postcoloniale. En choisissant de s'installer dans l'Etat espagnol, et plus precisement dans la ville de Barcelone, ces migrants se soustraient au role de victime qui leur est assigne par la representation <> de l'immigration afin de devenir des agents et des acteurs politiques. Le present article propose une reconstruction socio-analytique autour de ce mouvement social qui exige la regularisation inconditionnelle de tous les sans-papiers vivant en Espagne.

It is absurd to expect women to obey, when inequality is imposed with the force of law.

--Fatema Mernissi, El haren en Occidente.

Introduction

This social movement is made up of organized migrants who live, work, and consume in the territory of the Spanish state like all its other inhabitants. Through weaving webs of understanding with other actors on the local, state, and European level and taking actions including lock-ins, hunger strikes, demonstration, and assemblies, they demand that the Spanish government regularize, without conditions, the situation of all those who are kept in irregular residency situations by immigration policies.

In this paper, I present a synthesis of the sociogenesis of this social movement, the development of its political discourse, and its demands as well as the various strategies used to achieve an outcome where approximately 1 million people obtained their "papers," and with them, certain rights. (1)

The arguments used in this article have been devised and developed in the context of my doctoral research project, on the movement of documented and undocumented immigrants in Barcelona, based on a qualitative approach to the movement, through twenty-three biographical interviews, investigative journalism, and activist or militant research and observation over six years uninterruptedly. (2)

In terms of the theoretical frames, the field of study about social movements of migrants is relatively young and uses the basis of a transnational understanding of social phenomena. The "struggles of migrants," like a new kind of social movement, I propose, can be analyzed from the interpretive frames, or the sociological discourses about collective action and social movements. (3) We also have academic narratives about the "right to migrate and remain" that are useful to understand these "struggles of migrants. (4) A considerable number of researchers consider political action of the migrants as a new kind of social movement, and they offer analytical approaches of examples of these movements or its demands in different countries. (5)

"We Are Not Washing Machines"

For over a decade Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, has been the scene of thousands of migrants, with and without "papers," participating as the protagonists of a new social movement (6) whose demands are that the Spanish government regularize all those who live, work, and consume in its territory. …

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