Dr. Lelio Mármora, director of the Institute of Migration Politics and Asylum (IPMA) at the University “Tres de Febrero”, explained to Télam earlier in the week that immigrants living in Argentina make up a mere 4.5 percent of the total population, “the lowest level in decades.”

If the statistics are anything to go by, there appears to be a rather large disconnect between the data and the popular discourse surrounding the subject. According to studies published by the UN, as far as levels of migration are concerned, Argentina ranks 124th out of 200 countries. So why is everyone from politicians to taxi drivers so focused on Argentina’s immigration problem?

Mármora, who was once the regional representative for the International Migration Organization and has published “The Impact of Current Migration on the Economic and Sociocultural Structure of Argentina”, assured Télam that talking about “the negative impact” of migration on education, healthcare or poverty rates is “an exaggeration that can only correspond to electoral demagoguery.”

He was, of course, referring to the views of people like the leader of the Victory Front’s caucus (FpV) in the Argentine Senate, Miguel Pichetto. Earlier this month, in an interview with TV show La Mirada, the Senator argued that Argentina has to “control” a “type of migration that is very complex and has no reciprocity whatsoever.”

Pichetto would have voted Trump. Photo via Radio Mitre
Pichetto would have voted Trump. Photo via Radio Mitre

Pichetto complained, “Our country works as a social austerity measure for Bolivia and a criminal one for Peru,” which, following his theory, “solved its security problem by transferring all its drug-trafficking infrastructure to us.”

The Senator seemed to be echoing the xenophobic rhetoric that we have all seen used so forcefully by Donald Trump in the US elections and Nigel Farage during the Brexit campaign: “foreigners invading our country, stealing our jobs and abusing our education and healthcare services.” Problem is, the data just doesn’t back it up.

Firstly, get this: according to the CIA’s latest estimate (published on October 8, 2016), Argentina’s net migration rate is currently negative, at -0.1 migrants per 1,000 people (based on midyear population). More people are leaving the country than arriving. And, before you try start drafting that angry Facebook post, yes, these numbers do reflect illegal and undocumented migrants too, and the net rate also does not distinguish between economic migrants, refugees, and other types of migrants.

A lot of Argentines leave the country in search of better economic opportunities. In 2013, there were around 270 thousand Argentines living in Spain and over 180 thousand in the USA, according to a report from Unicef.

Argentina's net migration. Via CIA
Argentina’s net migration. Via CIA

Secondly, it does not appear to be the case that foreigners are taking over the social services of Argentina. According to Mármora, only 1.9 percent of schoolchildren (between the ages of 5 and 19) are foreign. 29% of these children attend schools in the City of Buenos Aires, accounting for 6%, as this is where the largest quantity of migrants are settled in Argentina (mostly in the lower income suburbs), and 80% of them from Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru.

As far as university students are concerned, there is often a lot of controversy surrounding the supposedly large number of Colombian students coming to study for “free” in Argentina but Dr. Mármora explained that “in the case of Colombians, it must be understood that they only represent 4 percent of the total number of matriculated students and those doing postgraduate study have to pay double what Argentines pay.”

In terms of healthcare services, according to research carried out by hospitals in Gran Buenos Aires, “the proportion of foreigners who sought medical attention was 12 percent of the total turnout and they were mostly using the maternity ward – not the services of higher complexity in which a significant cost is involved.” Although this figure is obviously higher than 4.5 percent, it must be taken into account that the 12 percent only accounts for Greater Buenos Aires, which has the largest concentration of immigrants.

A report published by the Argentinian Government, in fact, presented evidence that “residents who are born in bordering countries (Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Bolivia, Brazil) or Peru solicit fewer medical consultations than the rest of the residents of the city.” It goes on to assert that, “in the City of Buenos Aires, they are also at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing healthcare and educational services.”

Hospital Fernández is not actually overflowing with foreigners.

Lastly, contrary to the popular belief voiced so gracefully by Pichetto, not all Peruvians in Argentina are criminals. The governmental report, using data from the National Office of Crime Policy, suggests that 202 out of every 100,000 native residents were convicted of crimes during the year 2008, whereas for foreign residents the rate was 193 per 100,000.

According to Mármora, beliefs that Argentina is facing huge problems with immigration are “a huge mistake. A situation is being described that isn’t the reality, there are secondary interests that count on us believing that all blame should be put on foreigners.”

He added that, “historically, Argentina is a country that doesn’t discriminate … That is what sets us apart from the rest of the world, that we are not a racist nation, a phenomenon that is growing in more developed countries.” This may be so, but the fact is that it looks like Argentina might be joining the now global trend of “tightening” borders.