Italy's lower chamber of parliament passed a hotly debated bill on Wednesday making it a crime to enter or stay in Italy illegally the latest effort by Premier Silvio Berlusconi's conservative forces to crack down on illegal migration. To ensure swift passage, Berlusconi's allies put the legislation to a confidence vote, which they easily won 316-258.
Confidence votes force lawmakers to close ranks since any defeat would force the government's resignation.
The legislation makes it a crime to enter or stay in Italy without permission, punishable by a fine of euro5,000-euro10,000 ($6,840-$13,670), although no prison penalty would be imposed. It also imposes a prison term of up to three years for anyone who rents housing to an illegal immigrant.
The measure must now be approved by the Senate. Berlusconi's conservative coalition has been working to stem the flow of illegal migrants, bolstered by surveys showing that many Italians link immigrants to crime.
Last year alone, more than 36,000 migrants from Africa and elsewhere arrived in Italy by boat, many coming ashore on the tiny Sicilian island of Lampedusa. Hundreds of boats run by organized smuggling rings set off from Libya alone.