Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Detention for Irregular Entry and Deportation Practices in Spain before European Integration, 1956-1980


Ariela House


Time to read

4 Minutes

Guest post by Ariela House. Ariela’s research on the history of the French-Spanish border focuses on border control and travel documentation requirements from the 1950s to the 1970s. This post draws in part on her University of Barcelona PhD thesis and subsequent work funded by a grant for research on the Girona area from the Institut Ramon MuntanerThis is the fourth post of Border Criminologies’ themed series on 'The Changing Landscapes of Immigration Detention' organised by Ana Ballesteros-Pena and Cristina Fernández-Bessa.

Eastern Pyrenees, where people attempted to cross the border from Spain to France

As a historian studying border control in the Catalan Pyrenees, primarily during the late Franco regime (1959-1975), I have worked extensively with police records of people detained for irregular border crossing in the province of Girona. Most were Spanish nationals, often men who were attempting to reach France to look for work without the required passport, but a number of foreign nationals were also detained. These archival documents offer a preliminary look at what happened to detainees from detention to deportation. This blog post includes links to selected files digitised by the Girona Historical Archives.

What happened to detainees from detention to transfer to the provincial prison was essentially the same for foreign and Spanish nationals. Detentions were carried out by the Civil Guard border patrol, border police, and during ID checks on trains. Detainees were questioned by civil guards or policemen, and the interrogation report was sent to the civil governor in Girona, who represented the Spanish State in the province. Both Spanish and foreign nationals were initially jailed as administrative detainees under the authority of the civil governor.

For most of the period, the civil government generally placed foreign detainees under the authority of the department responsible for foreigners and border control at the General Directorate of Security, Spain’s central police administration, which almost always ordered deportation. Detainees were deported to one of three countries that border Spain:  France, Portugal, and Morocco. Deportation to France was arranged by the Girona civil government; detainees were handed over to the Civil Guard to be taken to the border. Deportation to Portugal or Morocco involved a lengthy journey in the custody of the Civil Guard.

Documentation requirements and travel patterns – whether for tourism or migration purposes, though this distinction is not always clear-cut – differed by nationality. In the late 1950s, detainees from Western Europe included a number of men who wanted to join the Spanish Foreign Legion or look for work in a new country. Starting in the mid-1960s, travellers from West Germany and France could enter Spain with just a national ID card (as I have discussed elsewhere). However, the most common nationality among foreign detainees in 1969 was, in fact, French. These detainees were mostly tourists who had entered Spain without an ID card or, occasionally, tried to sneak an undocumented friend into the country. Detainees from all European countries other than Portugal were deported to France.

Most Portuguese detainees were migrants in transit to France (see research by Victor Pereira). Portuguese nationals were taken from Girona to the province on the Portuguese border where they had entered Spain. That province’s civil government arranged deportation. Later, in the 1970s, all deportations were carried out at the same border crossing point. Under a policy in effect from 1966 to 1971, Portuguese nationals who entered Spain irregularly without a passport, but had a valid ID card, were not deported. Instead, they were issued a pass giving them 30 days to either find work or leave the country.

The civil government in Girona released some detainees who had valid passports, such as Moroccan nationals who had entered Spain legally but were detained for attempting to cross the French border irregularly, only informing Madrid after the fact. Many Moroccan nationals who were in Spain irregularly were taken to Ceuta to be deported to Morocco, but others were sent back to France. Beginning in the spring of 1959, Moroccans and Algerians who entered Spain irregularly were taken to General Directorate of Security headquarters in Madrid. This policy appears to have ended around the same time as the war in Algeria in 1962.

a deportation order
An order to deport two French nationals, sent by radio telegram in 1969. Photo by Ariela House at the Girona Historical Archives.

Up until 1962, the circumstances that led Algerians to enter Spain irregularly were usually related to the ongoing war and repressive measures like restricting their freedom to leave France. In 1956, there was an apparent shift from making Algerians who entered irregularly from France recross the border to taking them to Ceuta to be deported to Morocco, which was more in keeping with their wishes. Following independence, those detained were primarily in transit between Algeria and France, though circumstances had changed (see work on Algerians in France by Amelia H. Lyons). Standard practice by Spanish authorities in the late 1960s and early 1970s seems to have been to deport Algerians to France – whether or not they had previously been living there. Indeed, irregular deportation without the involvement of authorities from the neighbouring country appears to have been fairly common practice in both directions at the French-Spanish border.

Starting in 1974, about a year before the dictator’s death, there were a series of back-and-forth changes as to whether authorities in Girona or Madrid were responsible for ordering deportation. At the end of the decade, it was the civil governor in Girona. A standard form was used that claimed that the detainee had been living and working in Spain without the required residency and work permits – even when the person in question had just been deported from France. These deportation resolutions suggest that Spanish authorities in the post-dictatorship era were starting to think about foreign detainees as migrants, rather than just illegal border crossers. Furthermore, interrogation reports were starting to include declarations of detainees’ legal rights, though it is not clear that much had changed in practice. In the late 1970s, deportation to France was sometimes not possible because French authorities refused to accept undocumented nationals of other European countries, which may suggest increased police cooperation at the border.

Further research – using these files from Girona and other sources – is needed to more definitively trace how practices and policies regarding foreign nationals in Spain evolved during the dictatorship and, subsequently, in the period prior to the 1985 law that is often cited as the origin of contemporary Spanish immigration policy. Archival sources can provide insight into actual practices and experiences at the border, adding a necessary perspective that complements research on legislative developments in the period before Spain joined the European Community in 1986 (such as work by Silvana Santi).

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

A. House. (2023) Detention for Irregular Entry and Deportation Practices in Spain before European Integration, 1956-1980. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2023/03/detention-irregular-entry-and-deportation-practices. Accessed on: 13/06/2024

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