Spanish police are practicing widespread racial profiling, stopping people for identity checks based solely on people's ethnic or racial characteristics, Amnesty International said Wednesday.

In a new report, the human rights group said certain police stations in Madrid had weekly and monthly quotas for the number of irregular migrants they have to detain, encouraging officers to target people belonging to ethnic minorities.

The Spanish authorities are using stop and search powers abusively as a way to control migration.

- Izza Leghtas, an Amnesty researcher on Spain

"People who do not 'look Spanish' can be stopped by police as often as four times a day," said Izza Leghtas, an Amnesty researcher on Spain, who called on the authorities to drop the practice.

A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry on Wednesday rejected the allegation.

Amnesty said that under Spanish law police can check the identity of people in public places when there is a security concern. The group's research, however, revealed that deliberate identity checks on foreigners without any security concern is widespread.

"It is not only discriminatory and illegal — it also fuels prejudice — as those who witness such stops presume the victims to be engaged in criminal activities," said Leghtas.

Spain has more than 5 million foreign nationals, making up some 12 percent of the population. About half are European Union citizens while Moroccans, Ecuadoreans and Colombians form the largest groups of non-EU nationals.

Many of the immigrants came to Spain during the economic boom decade that ended in 2008 with the onset of the international financial crisis and a near two-year recession in Spain.

"The Spanish authorities are using stop and search powers abusively as a way to control migration," Leghtas said in a statement.

"Spain has the right to control migration, however, that should not be at the expense of the rights of migrants and minorities to equality and protection from discrimination," she said.

Spain now has an euro-zone high unemployment rate of 21.5 percent. The unemployment rate among foreign nationals is 32.6 percent.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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