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Descendants of political exiles and emigres rush to reclaim Spanish nationality while they can.
Finding the required documents and even determining what documents are required constitute a nightmare for many applicants.
Ludivina Garcia, president of the Association of Descendants of Exiles, said that the grandchildren of political refugees usually have it easier. If an emigre left for political reasons, and “[i]t was a very dramatic family exile, and members kept papers as part of their family history," then their grandchildren might have an easier time going through the citizenship process. Or, if "an exile’s grandchild knows the name of his grandfather, where and when he was born,” she added.
But economic migrants were mostly single men who often married women in other countries and lost their connection to Spain — their descendants do not even know where to start looking for their grandparents’ birth certificate, she said.
Enrique Gonzalez, a delegate from the justice trade union, Sindicato Profesional de Justicia (SPJ), explained that the courts and civil registries in the Galicia region of northwest Spain, where many emigrants came from, are flooded with petitions.
Handwritten requests come by ordinary mail, “full of conjectures,” he said, such as the birth place believed to be “somewhere in Galicia” and the year “more or less in … .” Records are not computerized, and the initial torrent of petitions overwhelmed the few staff they had employed in villages. An increase of personnel has helped ease some of the pressure.
Some emigres' birth certificates were lost; or they never existed since birth certificates weren't issued in Spain before the 1870s. Baptism certificates are accepted instead, but how many people abroad know in what parish their grandparents were christened?
A passport, a political party’s affiliation card, a passengers’ list at the port of entry, a foreigners’ registry — all can support an application. But papers have often deteriorated over time; or the migrants simply never registered. “Many were illiterate,” said PL, “they got off the boat and were not concerned with procedures.” Others wanted to remain under wraps, hiding for political reasons or determined to start a fresh new life — many changed their names for those reasons, which further complicates claims to recover Spanish nationality.
OIDE is a volunteer group helping Spaniards’ descendants living abroad by providing information and legal advice through its website, group chats and meetings. Its president, Edgardo Quintas, complains that requisites to apply for nationality are not standard, which PL confirmed through his own experience. He was asked to present his parents’ marriage certificate while his siblings were not. Documents accepted by some consular and court offices are rejected by others.
Quintas also reports gender discrimination — Spanish women who married a native from another country often had to adopt their husband’s nationality, and their descendants have more difficulty in obtaining Spanish citizenship. "We estimate about 40 percent of applications presented all over the world have problems, mostly due to the issue of grandmothers having lost their nationality," Quintas said.
The law is expected to grant nationality to some 300,000 new Spaniards. Half have been approved. It is not known how many will leave their homes to try anew in Spain’s crippled economy.