Staff reporter SOME 700'000 illegal immigrants, 19.362 of them in the Balearics, have emerged from the shadows of Spain's black economy in time for the end of the three-month amnesty last night, Labour Minister Jesus Caldera said yesterday. Thousands of illegal immigrants waited in line across the Balearics and Spain yesterday to apply for the amnesty, desperate to get the crucial paperwork done in the last few hours before the deadline. They stood for hours, some through Friday night, outside social security offices in the hope of securing precious “papeles” (documents) that would allow them to live and work legally in Spain, which has around 44 million people. Spain launched the amnesty on Feb. 7 for those who could provide proof of employment, of residency in Spain and a clean legal record. It aims to lift them out of the shadow economy, give them rights and make them pay taxes. Caldera said almost 700'000 people would have applied by the time 193 offices, that opened especially yesterday to deal with latecomers, shut at 9.00 p.m. “Almost 700'000 jobs brought out of the black economy! That represents between 80 and 90 percent of all such jobs held by immigrants in Spain. We can feel very satisfied,” Caldera told reporters during a visit to one of the busy offices. The Socialist government presents the amnesty as a way to regulate immigration better in a country that is a key gateway into the European Union from Africa and Latin America. But the measure, launched at a time when Britain was tightening controls on asylum seekers ahead of a general election, highlighted the absence of a common immigration policy in the 25-nation bloc and angered some EU members. For those waiting in line, it was a rare chance to break out of a life of insecurity. “The papers mean you can live and work in peace, like any Spanish person. They can't pay you less just because you don't have papers,” said Maritza Gomez, , from Ecuador, who works as a cleaner. She was carrying her 18-- month-old daughter. Ecuadoreans were the most numerous group among the applicants for amnesty, followed by Romanians and Moroccans. Some in the lines did not have proof of employment or residency, but they were waiting anyway in the hope that an exception would be possible or something would change. It is precisely the prospect of immigrants converging on Spain in ever greater numbers in hope of friendly treatment that has upset other EU countriesThey fear those immigrants could later make their way through Europe's loose borders. Following the start of the Spanish amnesty, the European Commission called for an early warning system whereby member states would inform each other before launching national immigration initiatives.

Photo: M.A. Cañellas