ROME - Opposition is rising among Italian mayors and regional governors who are against the central government's crackdown on asylum-seekers. They are planning court challenges to the new measures in defiance of the populist government and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
A controversial security decree, backed by Salvini and recently approved by parliament, has significantly tightened the criteria for migrants requesting humanitarian protection. The mayors and governors who oppose the decree contend parts of it are unconstitutional.
But Salvini has made clear that in the past Italy has provided humanitarian protection too easily, and now only those who are truly fleeing from a war will be able to stay in the country.
The interior minister stressed recently that those who were not fleeing a conflict, and instead were bringing conflict to Italy by selling drugs, stealing and committing other crimes, would not be staying in Italy.
He added that there are 5 million Italians living in poverty and that they take priority over anyone else. But mayors from such cities as Palermo, Naples and Florence are refusing to bow to a law they do not consider to be in line with the Italian constitution.
Leoluca Orlando, mayor of Palermo, said this month that because of this law, up to 120,000 people in the country legally would be thrown onto the streets, becoming invisible and without rights. He added that the new decree would incite criminality, not prevent it.
At least eight regional governors have also joined the ranks of those who feel the matter should be taken to a judge who can decide whether the decree complies with the constitution. Among them is Sergio Chiamparino, president of the region of Piedmont in northern Italy, who expects to mount a legal challenge by early February.
He said there was a risk that the decree could indirectly affect policies, starting with health and social policies under the regions' jurisdiction. And he said he thought there had been a violation in the attribution of responsibilities between the central state and regions.
The new law bans asylum-seekers from gaining residency in Italy, which is needed to apply for public housing or a place for their children in public nursery schools, as well as for complete access to national health care.
Cesare Mirabelli, president emeritus of Italy's Constitutional Court, said what was occurring was basically a political act of dissent against the law, which would most likely lead to a challenge of its constitutional legitimacy — for example, in cases where limits arise regarding the right to health, which is a human right that affects all, or the right to education, which pertains to minors, whether they are Italian citizens or foreigners.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has agreed to meet with a delegation of mayors next week to discuss how the technical application of the law could be modified.