When the Covid-19 cases spiked in Madrid at the end of summer, the regional governor Isabel Díaz Ayuso (PP) pointed to the “way of life that our immigrants have” as a possible cause. Back then, there was no suspicion that there would be an early election. But even if there were one, Ayuso’s statement would have little impact at the polls. A million foreigners registered in Madrid (15 per cent of its residents) will not vote in the upcoming regional election on 4 May. However, there is one exception. Those who are naturalised citizens, hence Spaniards to all effects, are theoretically entitled to vote in the elections.
“Legally, you are the same, but socially, although you walk down the street with your Spanish identity card, you are still considered a migrant because of your appearance”, says Ecuadorian Vladimir Paspuel, president of Rumiñahui association, advocating for migrants. Paspuel has been living in Spain for more than 20 years and holds Spanish citizenship. Rumiñahui and “15 other” migrant organisations are discussing how to promote the vote in these elections. “The vote is still a minority, but as long as we do it, the parties will take us into account. I love it when the elderly come out and vote. Sometimes they even determine governments”, he says.
Ever since the elections were called, the migration issue has emerged in the spotlight. Serigne Mbayé, originally from Senegal, was included in the candidates’ list of leftist Podemos. Subsequently, far-right Vox made an outburst on social media and threatened to expel him from Spain, although he is a national. Governor Ayuso also criticised Mbayé for being a spokesperson for the street vendors union, formed by African workers mostly. The extreme right-wing media has organised a campaign targeting him. Mbayé sent a letter to EsRadio, a station run by the right-wing broadcaster Federico Jiménez Losantos. In it, he claimed his right to protest. Jiménez Losantos responded with insults.
“Migration should not be used as a political weapon to garner a racist and xenophobic vote. This is not good for Spain or Madrid, and only reveals the low political quality of these parties”, says Paspuel about Vox. The activist also calls on the right-wing People’s Party (PP) to “reflect” and to “establish a cordon sanitaire [against the extreme right], as Germany does.”
And this was before Vox unveiled a xenophobic poster in a central Metro station in Madrid. In it, the party made false claims against unaccompanied immigrant minors. The campaign poster is now under investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office for an alleged hate crime.
Aziz Allaouzi is responsible in Madrid for the Ibn Battuta Foundation, which focuses on integrating Moroccans, another group with a significant number of naturalised citizens. Allaouzi doesn’t think that the migrant vote is uniform. “I know people who vote for the PP, the Socialists, and Podemos”, he says. Allaouzi also recalls the case of a family in Torrejón de Ardoz, a city on the outskirts of Madrid. They voted for Vox because they defend a traditional family model. This family was influenced by the propaganda spread in WhatsApp groups. In any case, Spaniards of Moroccan origin are not a bloc, he thinks. “The concept of Moroccan citizenship is under construction. Morocco is made up of different groups, and there is no solid interaction between ourselves, between people from the north and the south. At the political level, we need a lot of work. And that is exercised with democracy”, the campaigner explains.
“Extremes don’t do anyone any good. We had a left-wing dictatorship, and you had a right-wing dictatorship, but neither country benefited; they had an awful time. I see Vox in the extreme”, says Ica Tomi. He is the president of the Spanish-Romanian Association Salva. This organisation would like Spain to stop requiring people to abandon their original citizenship in the naturalisation procedures. Spain only allows individuals to retain their original nationality when there is a dual nationality agreement, as in the case of Latin American countries. “We have been asking for this for years and years.” Tomi is not aware of a predominant political tendency among those who do have access to a Spanish passport.
Wealthy Venezuelans are a particular group who might cast a right-wing vote. This is according to Alexandre Rangel, director of the group SiEspaña, which manages residency permits and nationalities through the non-profit residency procedure. In order to access this residence scheme, it is necessary to prove savings to support oneself, pay private insurance and not work, or invest a minimum amount of 500,000 euros in the country. “They are very much against anything that has to do, or seems to their ears to be related in any way, with communism or socialism. Regardless of their social status, the vote of these people will undoubtedly go to Isabel Díaz Ayuso”, predicts Rangel. About 20 families a week pass through his office. Most of them are Venezuelan, Mexican or Colombian.
Ecuadorian Vladimir Paspuel considers vital the participation increase, no matter the party. “We have to motivate ourselves”, he insists. Some gestures seem hopeful to him, like seeing people posting photos of themselves on their social networks on election day. “We are gradually becoming aware of the fact that we belong in Spain”, he points out. However, Paspuel insists that integration must be bidirectional. He also makes a reflection: “I fight and work for this society and work towards the progress of this region and my country. But how much do you consider me to be part of your family?”
Ecuadorians and Colombians head nationalisations
The number of Spaniards of foreign origin is a figure to be determined in Spain. This is a country that has been relatively homogenous in demographic terms until recently. The census does not have the complex forms with boxes to mark ethnicity and origin that are the subject of a federal debate in more historically diverse places, as in the United States. A rough benchmark figure for Madrid is the number of grants of nationality by residence. Between 2000 and 2019, there were 412,893, according to the 2020 Report on the Registered Foreign Population of the Community of Madrid, from which minors and the deceased should be deducted, among other adjustments. Further back, the numbers decrease. In 1995 only 6,756 people had been naturalised in this way in the whole country.
By nationality of origin, Ecuadorians are clearly the majority. 104,595 of them received a Spanish ID in Madrid between 2004 and 2019, according to data from the Directorate of Registries and Notaries. They are followed by Colombians (54,308), Peruvians (48,393) and Moroccans (34,314). Venezuelans are still relatively few (9,792), but the number is likely to increase soon, assuming legal residents apply when they reach the two-year requirement for Latin Americans. In 2015, there were fewer than 14,000; in January 2020, more than 60,000.
The case of Romanians stands out: only 2,692 Romanians have been naturalised since 2000, even though they are by far the largest migrant population in Madrid (187,000), 18.2 per cent. This is influenced by having to renounce the nationality of origin, a general rule in Spain when there is no agreement to do otherwise.