Spain expects wave of citizenship requests due to new ‘Grandchildren Law’

Spain expects wave of citizenship requests due to new ‘Grandchildren Law’

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Spain is anticipating hundreds of thousands of citizenship requests as relatives of exiles from the country take advantage of a new historical memory law which tackles the legacy of the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

The Democratic Memory Law, also known informally as the “Grandchildren Law”, allows children and grandchildren of Spaniards who were forced into exile during the 1936-39 civil war and the dictatorship which followed to claim Spanish citizenship.

About half a million Spaniards went to live abroad during that time, according to estimates. France was the most common destination, but many went to Latin American countries. The Spanish foreign ministry is deploying extra personnel in consulates in some Latin American countries in order to manage the large numbers of requests expected. Cuba, Argentina, Mexico, and Venezuela are the countries where the most are anticipated.

“In the last two days alone we’ve had 3,000 emails [asking about this], which have caused our server to collapse,” said Estela Marina Pérez, of Grupo Aristeo, a Madrid-based company which handles queries related to immigration.

“We’ve had to set up a separate platform to manage this, above all for Cubans,” she said, estimating that several hundred thousand Cubans alone will request Spanish nationality.

Others who will be able to claim nationality under the new legislation are children of Spanish women who lost their citizenship during the Franco regime because they married a foreigner. And another group which can benefit from the law are people who were over 21 when their parents received Spanish nationality under a previous historical memory law passed in 2007. Because they were adults at the time, these individuals were unable to claim citizenship along with their parents. This meant that in many cases one member of the family was granted nationality but the children were not, or that the younger children were granted it but not the older ones.

María Padrón, a Venezuelan who was granted Spanish citizenship under the 2007 law is hoping her children will be able to receive it under the new legislation. “My parents travelled [to Venezuela] in a sailing boat which my grandfather made, imagine that,” she told Voz de América news site. “My children need to leave, because you know what the country is like right now.”

A law passed in 2015 allowed descendants of Sephardic Jews who had been expelled from Spain in the 15th century to claim citizenship. A total of 127,000 people, mainly from Latin America, applied for the scheme.

The new rules granting Spanish nationality are just one part of a law that attempts to deal once and for all with issues related to the civil war and the ensuing four-decade dictatorship.

The Democratic Memory Law declares the Franco regime illegal and deems publicly defending it a criminal offence. It calls for the removal of monuments and street signs, such as those bearing the names of Franco or his generals, which are seen to glorify the dictatorship. The law also opens the door to the investigation of human rights violations both during the regime and in its immediate aftermath.

In addition, the legislation asserts that the state is now responsible for identifying and exhuming the remains of the victims of Franco who are still in unmarked graves, who campaigners estimate number more than 100,000. Until now, volunteer organisations had carried out exhumations.

After parliament approved the law in the summer, the leftist coalition government of Pedro Sánchez said: “We are turning the page on the darkest episode of our history, the dictatorship and the civil war”. It said the legislation embraced the transition to democracy and the constitution.

However, the law has faced stiff resistance from the political right, which claims it digs up the past and that it has been influenced by EH Bildu, formerly the political wing of Basque terrorist group Eta.

The leader of the main opposition Popular Party (PP), Alberto Núñez Feijóo, has warned that he will roll back the law if he becomes prime minister, alleging it “attacks the spirit of the democratic transition”.

“The Grandchildren Law is undoubtedly a good piece of news for the descendants of Spaniards around the world,” noted Viviana Echeverria, an expert in migration law. [But] it’s not clear if it’s here to stay.”

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