Regional leaders alarmed over Macri’s immigration decree
Mercosur governments and human rights NGOs voice their concern over the Let’s Change government decision to form tougher security restrictions on foreign residents and those who want to emigrate to Argentina
With a swipe of a pen, President Mauricio Macri signed a decree modifying the country’s immigration policy putting stricter restriction on immigrants with criminal records and making it easier to deport those who commit crimes. The policy change occurred in a context where countries throughout the world are tightening immigration controls, making the Let’s Change administration the latest government to join the fray.
But while the administration denied these recent changes would have a major effect on immigration, highlighting that it is focused solely on ‘security issues’, local and international human rights organizations — and even foreign leaders — disclaimed the measure accusing the government of using immigrants as scapegoat.
“It’s a measure that disguises itself as a security issue but actually directly intervenes in immigration policy,” told the Herald Diego Morales, the head of CELS human rights organisation’s legal department. Decree 70/2017, which was published in the Official Gazette last Monday, modifies immigration law 25.871 and the 346 law of nationality in many different aspects. It expands the type of crimes and penalties that can cause immigrants to be deported or restricted from entering the country. It reduces the amount of time immigrants are given to defend themselves from expulsion charges, from 30 to 3 days, and allows immigrants to be remanded in custody before a verdict on their potential deportation is given.
Both Bolivian President Evo Morales and Paraguay’s foreign minister — the two countries that have the most immigrant residents living in Argentina — expressed alarm over the decree this week. “Brother Latin American presidents, let us be #PatriaGrande. Let us not follow the immigration policies of the north. Let us join together for our sovereignty and dignity,” tweeted Morales. In response to the measure, the Bolivian president announced Wednesday that he would send a mission to Buenos Aires led by his foreign minister to evaluate the effect the decree would have on his countrymen residing in Argentina. “Our brothers in Argentina aren’t criminals or drug-traffickers. They only seek to improve their family’s economic situation while also supporting the development of our brother country Argentina,” the Bolivian Head of State said in a government act in Oruro, Bolivia yesterday. Over a million Bolivians are residing in the country, according to the latest estimates from the INDEC statistic bureau.
Paraguay’s Foreign Minister also voiced his worries over the change in Argentina’s immigration policy. “We are being attentive and alert,” Paraguay foreign minister Eladio Loizaga, said in Asunción. He was reported to have informed Let’s Change Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra that they were studying the new immigration regulation, and reminded Macri’s administration that they are signatories of the Mercosur trade bloc’s treaty of free transit for residents in the region.
Immigration linked to crime?
“This measure is supported by a demagogic punitive discourse that tries to link immigration to the nation’s or citizen’s security,” explained the CELS immigration expert, pointing out how the numbers used by the Let’s Change administration to back up the new decree were contradictory. “The government supports their decree with prison statistics from the federal penitentiary prison system, which shows 22 percent of prisoners are foreigners. But when taking into account all prisons — in this case including provincial prisons — the number of foreign prisoners drops to six percent,” Morales said. He also noted that there are only 1420 foreigners in prisoners for drug-trafficking, less than .06 percent of the foreign population in the country.
However, this isn’t the image that Security Minister Patricia Bullrich presented, when she asserted that Peruvians and Paraguayans are responsible for drug-trafficking in the country, in a TN station TV programme last week. “Peruvian and Paraguayan citizens come here and end up killing for the control of the drug market,” she had said.
In response, the Bolivian Foreign Ministry had later published a press release in rejection of the minister’s statements, criticising them for being “unsupported statements that don’t contribute to the fight against discrimination and xenophobia in their countries.”
Human rights organisations also warned that the implications of the new law could cause immigrant residents accused of even minor infractions or crimes — such as selling illegal merchandise on the street, participating in a protest that blockades a street or occupying a building — to be deported
In the midst of the inflammatory statements and criticisms, National Immigration Director Horacio José Garcia tried to calm down tempers, speaking to various different media outlets to dismiss the worries presented by NGOs and foreign leaders. “What we want are immigrants who behave well and don’t commit crimes ... if immigrants commit a minor crime, it will be clearly understood it doesn’t represent a threat to Argentina. We need to have equilibrium, be measured, and just rulings,‘ he said to the Herald in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
He defended the government’s new decree, stating that they were just putting into effect what already existed in the immigration law 25.872, but hadn’t been able to implemented previously because of bureaucratic issues that caused delays. “Argentina’s immigration policy will continue to follow the same basic regulatory framework, where those who want to come to work, study or bring their talents can move here but not those who want to commit crimes,” José García said.
In 2016, the country received over 215,000 immigrants, 28,000 seeking residency appointments to move to Argentina last month. Argentina is the highest recipient of immigrants in South America, the national immigration director said.
Argentina is historically known for having an open immigration policy, especially in the early 20th century when almost 30 percent of the population was foreign-born. But as the century progressed, immigration started to slow down in tandem with the political and economic instability the country periodically faced in the past century. In the last dictatorship, immigration policy took a turn for the worse when the government implemented Law 22.438 which prevented immigrants from becoming legal residents and gave security forces the green light to arrest and deport them as they please — without court authorization.
However, with the return of democracy these restrictions began to be loosened up and in 2006, the “Patria Grande” programme was enacted which was lauded as one of the most open immigration policies in the region. The new immigration policy was praised for its “migrant regularisation” scheme and permitted every citizen a part of the Mercosur region to file for permanent residency in Argentina. The only thing they needed to show was their nationality ID, the lack of a criminal record — making it one of the simplest immigration procedures in the world.
With Macri’s latest decree, this novel immigration policy will now be put to the test as regional and national bodies watch how the new security procedures affect its implementation. As of yet, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña hasn’t answered the request of the more than 150 immigration, human rights, social, academic and ecclesiastic organizations for a meeting to discuss the modifications to the decree. But opposition lawmakers will most certainly begin to put pressure on the government, as the new immigration policies start to be implemented this year.