Italy's largely unpatrolled coastline and proximity to Africa makes it a popular destination for smuggling operations. Some 36,000 migrants from Africa and elsewhere arrived by boat last year.
Italian lawmakers voted for a new bill to fine illegal immigrants up to $13,670 and jail people who house them. The Associated Press reports that Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative government is being pressured by the anti-immigrant Northern League party in its coalition to halt illegal migration as Italy's economy shrinks in the global downturn.
Under the new Italian legislation, which still needs Senate approval, migrants would not face prison time. But the bill provides for up to three years in prison for anyone who knowingly rents housing to an illegal immigrant.
Critics say the legislation would further marginalize those living in Italy illegally by making them afraid to seek medical help or to register their children at birth for fear of being turned in to police and deported.
Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that Japan is offering to pay hundreds of thousands of blue-collar Latin American immigrants to fly back home. So far, at least 100 workers and their families have agreed to leave the recession-racked country.
In 1990, Japan -- facing a growing industrial labor shortage -- started issuing thousands of special work visas to relatives of their resident immigrants. Today, an estimated 366,000 Brazilians and Peruvians live in Japan.
Under the emergency program, introduced this month, the country's Brazilian and other Latin American guest workers are offered $3,000 toward air fare, plus $2,000 for each dependent -- attractive lump sums for many immigrants here. Workers who leave have been told they can pocket any amount left over.
One condition: They can't come back.