Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, Italy's second generation of legal immigrants is renewing the fight for automatic citizenship in a country where migration is at the heart of the political debate.
“Ius soli!”, the Latin term which literally means “right of soil,” or birthright citizenship, has become the new rallying cry among the children of
Italy's 5.3 million legal immigrants, who are denied the right to apply for citizenship until they turn 18.
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Anti-racism protesters take part in a Black Lives Matter protest in Piazza del Popolo, Rome, in June. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
In early June, thousands of demonstrators marched in Rome in memory of African American George Floyd, who died on May 25 when a white policeman
kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes, triggering an outcry in the United States and around the world.
The march spurred renewed vigour among the children and grandchildren of migrants in Italy, who share the language and country's cultural references
but do not have the right to apply for citizenship until they are 18 years old.
Even then, it is subject to strict conditions and often gained only after a lengthy and heavily bureaucratic process.Italian-born children of migrants involved in stopping the hijack of a school bus in 2018 were promised citizenship as a “reward” for their bravery.
“In this country, citizenship is treated not as a right, but a concession,” said Fatima Maiga, who was born in Italy but is of Ivorian origin.
Legal immigrants say their plight has been overshadowed by the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea, which since 2014 has seen more than half a
million new immigrants arriving on Italy's shores.
They claim their fight for citizenship is also weighed down by anti-immigrant sentiment at home, fomented by certain politicians – most notably by the far-right League party,which left government in 2019 after only a year in power.
While in power, League leader Matteo Salvini brought in an anti-immigration decree which makes the path to citizenship more difficult for many legal migrants.
Of the 5.3 million foreigners living in Italy in 2019, around 1.3 million were under 18 and three quarters of those were born in the country.
Among those most affected are the children of Albanian, Moroccan, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani immigrants.
Maiga, 28, co-founded Italiani Senza Cittadinanza, or Italians Without Citizenship, in 2016 to help second-generation migrants – known as the G2 –
Under a 1992 law, anyone born in Italy can apply for citizenship at the age of 18, on condition of having legally lived here “without interruption”.
However, the process must be launched before they turn 19.
Up until that point, they are given residence permits.
If that window is missed, people can also become a citizen on the grounds of legal residency for a decade and on the condition of a minimum income of
8,500 euros ($10,000) a year over three years.
Nevertheless, the process can take a long time and involve complicated paperwork.
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
“I applied when I was 18. I had to wait for four years before getting my papers,” Marwa Mahmoud, 35, told AFP.
“I know what it's like to live as an Italian in everything but in law,” Egyptian-born Mahmoud said.
Mahmoud and others also worry the ongoing migrant crisis – in which hundreds of people have been arriving on Italy's shores every day – is pushing their
own struggle further down the agenda.
The numbers of people arriving in this way have risen by nearly 150 percent over the past year, the majority coming by boat from Tunisia, Italy's interior
ministry said last week.
“Our situation is being passed over in silence,” Mahmoud lamented.
'Not a priority'
“Since Italy started getting embroiled in the migrant crisis it's like we're starting at zero again,” she said, adding that Italians “tend to put
everyone in the same basket”.
“But the situation of an unaccompanied minor who arrived yesterday is not comparable with that of an immigrant child born and raised here,” she said.
During his year-long tenure in 2018-2019 as interior minister, Matteo Salvini, the head of the League party, pushed through new rules extending the
waiting time to process Italian nationality applications from two to four years.
Supported by the second-generation (G2) network, Italy's governing centre-left Democratic Party (PD) is now pushing for reforms – among them, advocating for five-year continuous residency to qualify for citizenship.
But so far, the PD's coalition partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, has been non-committal.
Still, a fairer birthright citizenship system has been under discussion in parliament in recent years.
But “it's not a priority”, said Giuseppe Brescia, a Five Star deputy, who heads parliament's committee on constitutional affairs.
The G2 movement now plans to hold a demonstration on September 19th in the hope of advancing the cause of what it calls Italy's “forgotten non-citizens.”