Switzerland will hold a referendum later this month on whether to pass a law on deporting convicted foreigners without appeal, regardless of the offences they may have committed.
The referendum has been proposed by the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party (SVP), which holds about a third of seats in the Swiss parliament. It’s campaign posters depict a white sheep kicking a black sheep out of Switzerland.
The proposed law would also apply to Swiss-born but non-citizen children of immigrants, or "secondos" as they are sometimes called.
The pro-business Free Democrats and liberal-left Social Democrats see the proposal as racist and excessive. They are concerned about relations with the European Union. Switzerland is already trying to rescue treaties with its biggest trading partner after voters in 2014 backed another SVP-sponsored measure stipulating quotas on EU workers.
This month, the EU advocate general issued a preliminary ruling saying that a non-EU adult foreigner with sole care of a child who is an EU citizen cannot be deported simply because he or she has a criminal record.
Critics say if the deportees have families, exposing them to financial hardship would violate the European Convention on Human Rights.
"Denying somebody the opportunity to be questioned or scrutinised to account for personal circumstances before deportation doesn't merely break with our Swiss and European heritage of justice," said former federal judge Niccolo Raselli, leader of the "No" campaign for the referendum. "It's inhumane."
One-fourth of Switzerland's 8 million people are foreigners and a considerable number of them are working for major corporations there.
Some Swiss business leaders who employ many foreigners are also against the proposed changes. They note that parliament has already approved reforms to ease deportations for some serious crimes.
The SVP campaign dates back to 2010, when another referendum resulted in the decision to increase and accelerate expulsions of convicted foreigners. However, this was still restricted with the condition that it must follow a judicial decision.
Some reasons for the latest initiative appear to be the influx of refugees to Europe since last year and sexual assaults on women partying on New Year’s Eve by mainly North African migrants in Germany.
SVP parliamentary deputy Heinz Brand said, "Our aim isn't to deport as many people as possible, we simply want to send a message that, if they commit a crime, they'll face strict consequences."
A simple majority will be enough to pass the law. Polls suggest supporters of the proposal slightly outnumber opponents, said Claude Longchamp of the GFS research institute.
Nevertheless, there would be some legal limits to deportations even if Swiss citizens vote "yes" in the referendum.