Olympic wins reignite Italy’s debate over citizenship for children of foreign parents

Olympic wins reignite Italy's debate over citizenship for children of foreign parents
Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs and Eseosa Desalu celebrate after winning gold in the men's 4x100m relay final during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Photo: ALEKSANDRA SZMIGIEL/POOL/AFP
Italy's enthusiasm over its Olympics success, driven in part by multicultural athletes, has once again reignited a long-running debate over its citizenship law and the bureaucratic hurdles faced by thousands of young people born in Italy.

The debate comes on the heels of Italy’s best performance in history at the Olympic Games, with 40 gold medals from a diverse band of athletes from a variety of backgrounds, including the country’s new star sprinter, Texas-born Lamont Marcell Jacobs.

The debate was sparked anew after the head of Italy’s National Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malago, complained of the bureaucratic headaches confronting Italian-born athletes who want to compete for their country, but lack Italian citizenship.

Under its current path to citizenship, Italy is an outlier in Europe, providing rights based on blood ties rather than based on where children are born – an idea known as “ius soli”,a Latin term which literally means “right of soil,” or birthright citizenship.

Children born in Italy to the country’s 5.3 million legal immigrants must wait until their 18th birthdays before the have the right to apply for citizenship, beginning an arduous process that can take four years, one that Malago described as “a Dante-esque circle”.

Campaigners pushing for reform of the system have pointed out that these second-generation migrants face the longest wait for citizenship of any applicant category.

After Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese said Malago’s criticism was valid, far-right leader Matteo Salvini, head of the populist League party, said that the minister should control the borders rather than rekindling the citizenship.debate.

In Italy, the far-right has repeatedly linked the issue of citizenship with the ongoing migrant crisis.

Salvini formerly served as Italy’s interior minister, during which time he made it more difficult for people to obtain Italian citizenship via existing routes, as well as famously blocking migrant rescue ships from docking at Italian ports.

Enrico Letta, Secretary of the Democratic Party and a former Italian prime minister, said in response that ius soli “is an issue that has nothing to do with the security and management of migrants. It has to do with equity, integration, the vitality of a society that has changed, in spite of the interpretation made by populists”.

Lamorgese told the La Stampa newspaper on Tuesday: “I think the important thing is that for these kids we have to think of social inclusion,” noting that the issue went beyond Italy’s young athletes.

“They have to feel an integral part of society,” she said.


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