This week on my birthday, April 3, El País reported that Spain "will need 157,000 immigrant workers a year until 2020". This week in Madrid we saw two foreign films highlighting radically different aspects of the disruptive effects of global migration. The first was Fatih Akin's Auf der anderen Seite (2007) -- literally, "On the Other Side" (oddly translated "On the Edge of Heaven" in the English version), a moving, ambiguous story about suffering and reconciliation of Turks in Germany and Germans in Turkey. There are no really evil people here, just people who hurt (and even kill) others without intending to. Akin extracts marvelous performances from his cast.

Auf der anderen Seite -- that is, on the other side is the evil system exploiting the desperation and vulnerabilities of migrants, exposed in Ken Loach's powerful fictionalized exposé, It's a Free World. Angie, a high-energy single mother who unfairly loses her job at a labor-contracting agency, decides to start her own agency and discovers, first, by playing fairly she can't win competing with the guys who operate illegally, and, secondly, that there are big rewards and little risk for going illegal herself -- hiring workers without papers and then, when convenient, faling to pay them. This is a classic tragedy, in which a victim of the exploiters who starts out with a lot of sympathy for the Poles, South Americans, Iranians and other foreign job-seekers, becomes herself a heartless exploiter of immigrant labor.

Loach has done a tremendous job. But there are still other "other sides" to this story, and we'll keep trying to relate them. Maybe there are some things we can do, as ordinary citizens pressuring governments and companies, to ease the constant churning of families from poorer to more promising lands.

(For more on immigration in Spain, see the many articles from El País at La inmigración en España.)

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