When Silvio Berlusconis government pledged 1,000 to every baby born in Italy in 2005 to families with income of less than 50,000 in 2004, his coalition allies in the Northern League insisted that this money should only be given to Italians or members of the European Union who were resident in Italy, but not to immigrants coming from outside the EU.

Due to a bureaucratic blunder, the letters offering the baby bonus was sent out by Sogei, the public company which keeps the state fiscal data bank, not only to newborn Italians and EU members but also to 3,000 babies born to immigrant families from outside the EU.

When the letters arrived, addressed to the individual newborn child, some of the immigrant parents went to their local post office, signed a form, which in many cases was not explained to them and which they did not understand, in which they stated that their child was an Italian citizen or a member of an EU country, and they claimed the cash.

Now these immigrants are being asked to repay the baby bonus and have been advised that they are being legally investigated.

According to Piero Soldini, coordinator for immigrants for CGIL, one of Italys leading trades union movements, the immigrants under investigation could face a prison sentence of up to six years for illegally taking money from the state.

The trade union is providing free legal advice for those under investigation and they are to bring a case before the constitutional court in an attempt to have the law condemned as being discriminatory. In the meantime they hope that the new prime minister will resolve the problem by offering the bonus to all immigrant children.