December 5, 2013
If Pope Francis has won praise for bringing hitherto taboo subjects out into the open, this election campaign has started to air an extremely delicate issue which has been largely dodged until now by the politicians (except perhaps dissident Peronist Francisco de Narváez) — namely, regional migration as a possible factor in social problems. In the past week, the voice raising this issue came from left not right of centre (like De Narváez) — former Santa Fe Socialist governor and 2011 presidential election runner-up Hermes Binner, who bordered on the politically incorrect when he pointed out that the population of low-income neighbourhoods in Rosario was being swollen by poverty-stricken migrants from Paraguay and Bolivia (and also the northeastern province of Chaco). Perhaps the medical man rather than the politician within Binner was doing the talking but he touched upon an important phenomenon which until now has tended to arouse the two extreme reactions of xenophobia and denial.
Argentina is an immigrant society par excellence — would the population be anything like 100 times the level of the 1810 birth of nationhood without immigration (while there are also those who argue that the population is still far too small for the size of this country, stunting the domestic market and the economy as a whole)? Moreover Argentina has enlightened immigration legislation dating from 2004 which should be a source of national pride. But the result is all too often perceived as the rapid growth of the past decade attracting the poor from all over the region to strain the educational, health and welfare systems to the limit. This widespread perception has yet to be statistically proven. For example, if the foreign-born population of this city grew by almost 20 percent between 2001 and the 2010 census, its three biggest shanty-towns grew from 50,000 to 80,000 in the same period — i.e. 60 percent or treble the rate. By the same token there are no correlations showing the immigrant population to be contributing unduly to the crime problem. There is slightly more concrete evidence of children from Paraguayan and Bolivian families having higher school dropout rates but if, for example, barely 27 percent of university students here are graduating (by far the worst such percentage in the region), Argentina is not in a position to go throwing stones at other South American countries for dragging down its educational standards.
By all means let us debate this issue then, but always at the civilized and culturally superior level which this country has long claimed.