The city of Barcelona has created a local resident status to provide rights and reduce the risk of detention for undocumented migrants.


While the city of Barcelona faces independence protests, an innovative model has developed to protect vulnerable undocumented migrants at risk of detention and destitution.


Calling itself the ‘City of Rights’, the local municipal government under the leadership of Deputy Mayor Gerardo Pisarello has undertaken strategic litigation against the federal government’s use of immigration detention in the city on the basis that there was no permit for it to operate.


With more than 50% of all migrants in Spain at some point being in an irregular status, undocumented migrants are at particular risk of detention under federal law, including in the federal immigration detention facility in Barcelona


In response, the municipality responsible for migrants , Migrant Care and Hosting Department for the City of Barcelona, ‘Ajuntament de Barcelona’ – Acolida a immigrants’ has also developed a unique and integrated alternatives to detention model for undocumented migrants.



Alternatives to detention in Barcelona
Information provided to undocumented migrants in Barcelona to assist them get proof of residency.


The model includes:

  1. Active local registration (padrón) – Registering undocumented migrants in the city- which automatically allows them access to mainstream services and triggers the period from which they can seek regularisation.
  2. Providing a status to reside in the city- Developing a unique document ‘Document de banaca’-neighbourhood document– to give local level status for undocumented migrants. It is now also being regionally acknowledged by the Catalan state authorities, who issues health care card for residents.
  3. Access to essential services, including education, health, housing support and welfare for at risk cases
  4. Encouraging regularisation- 14,000 undocumented migrants have been assisted from the legal advice provided by more than 60 lawyers. The municipality has funded EU200,000 towards this work.
  5. Promoting amendments to legislation to ensure more inclusive policies and reducing the use of detention and allowing greater regularisation of undocumented migrants. This work has included advocacy work at the EU level with PICUM.


Ramon Sanahuja Velez, the program director, argues that this program provides a range of benefits to the city and the migrants. This includes practically ensuring a vulnerable hidden population at risk are included in society, benefiting the economy and enhancing human rights.


DC Director Grant Mitchell meeting in City of Barcelona
IDC Director Grant Mitchell meeting City of Barcelona Ramon Sanahuja Velez Director of Immigration and Interculturality, Migrant Care and Hosting Department for the City of Barcelona. Nov 2017


More information on the program can be found here.


Plans for alternatives to detention in Madrid


Meanwhile, the City Council of Madrid is also planning to offer alternative to the deprivation of liberty and safeguards the human rights of migrants in detention. The local government aims to provide placement options for those in need as an alternative to detention and to hire social workers who could provide support for and monitor the situation of the detainees in the city’s detention centre.