Italy has had a strict immigration law similar to Arizona’s for years. Reporter Christopher Livesay travelled with police in Milan to get a glimpse of how that law is enforced.

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MARCO WERMAN: Key parts of the Arizona law are suspended. But if you want to get an idea of how such a law is implemented, check out Italy. For more than 30 years it’s had an immigration law that goes well beyond what Arizona has proposed. Christopher Livesay reports.

CHRISTOPHER LIVESAY:  There’s no Fourth Amendment in Italy protecting citizens from unprovoked searches and seizures.


LIVESAY: Officer Marco Turchetto has just stopped this man in Milan and asked to see an identity card. He didn’t do anything wrong. But according to Italy’s public safety code, police can demand to see anybody’s documents, regardless of probable cause. Milan’s vice chief of police Ivo Morelli gives an example.


IVO MORELLI: If a police officer finds a group of men who are of working age and they are loitering in a park around 10:00 in the morning, the police can check to see if they are in this country legally.

LIVESAY: In Italy, police can stop people based on suspicion alone. The law was originally intended to help police keep track of domestic terrorism suspects in the 1970s. But in recent years, Italian authorities have used the law to keep an eye on a growing immigrant population of Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans. In the past ten years, that population has grown by more than 200%.

MAURIZIO AMBROSINI: The majority of Italians agree with this law. I can say they demand also harder laws against migrants.

LIVESAY: Maurizio Ambrosini is a professor of the sociology of migration at the University of Milan. He points to the last major election in 2008 when Italy’s ultraconservative party called the Northern League made huge gains in the parliament thanks to an anti-immigrant platform. Italy’s laws authorize racial profiling, but Professor Ambrosini says most Italians don’t have a problem with that.

AMBROSINI:  There is a strong idea of an ethnic Italian identity. The idea that it is impossible to be truly Italians and to be Muslims or with dark skin.

LIVESAY: Of course, there are Italians who may not look Italian, but they are.

SOAD DIAB ABDEL RAHMAN: Yes, I’m Soad Diab Abdel Rahman. I was born in Italy and I’m Italian.

LIVESAY: Diab’s father is Egyptian, hence her Arab name and dark features. That was enough for police to question her legal status a couple of years ago when she reported a stolen motorcycle. Even after she showed them her Italian ID, Diab says they asked her where she was really from. Eventually they believed her, but Diab lost some faith in her local law enforcement.

RAHMAN: If I go to the police station, I want to feel safe. But when I go there and I feel them a little bit suspicious, I don’t feel comfortable. I feel like I have to show that I’m Italian, and that I have some rights. It makes you feel like you have no nation.

LIVESAY: Diab now thinks twice before dealing with the police, and she argues that Italy’s ID policy alienates both Italian citizens and immigrants alike. In fact, she suggests it may make life in Italy more dangerous, if immigrants won’t report crimes, or refuse to help police in their investigations. Regardless, immigrants keep coming. In the 30 years since Italy introduced its ID policy, the migrant population has grown from 400,000 to almost 4 million people, keeping Italian street police busy checking documents for the foreseeable future. For The World, I’m Christopher Livesay in Milan.

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