Photo via Panoramio

In keeping with the closed-border rhetoric the rest of the world seems to be spouting as of late, the Macri administration has hopped on board, announcing plans to strengthen its immigration policy. Clarín reported this weekend that the Government intends to reject potential immigrants who have an “intense” criminal record in their countries of origin.

This latest change would run alongside other policy changes that have been implemented over the course of the last year, sparking a debate over whether these laws would encourage xenophobia in a country that prides itself on being founded by immigrants, and has historically held an open-door policy.

This has led various members of the opposition to voice their concerns over the possibility that the policy could become discriminatory instead of being the “reasonable” measure the Government claims it needs in order to promote public safety.

The Government is trying its best to strike the balance between being a country with ‘secure’ immigration policies, while also being being careful to not stigmatize those affected. “Our country is what it is because of the immigrants that came,” said Susana Malcorra, the Foreign Minister, when asked about the policy.

Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra. Photo via Ministry of Foreign Relations
Foreign Minister Susana Malcorra. Photo via Ministry of Foreign Relations

“Crime migrates. When it can’t be in one place it goes to another.” said Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, in a somewhat more blunt explanation of her support of the policy. “What we are trying to prevent is crime coming here. And unless we receive an international alert from Interpol, we don’t know who’s coming in.”

Speaking to Clarín, Migrations’ Director Horacio García tried to explain Bullrich’s stance: “If someone has a criminal record in their country of origin, and there is no arrest warrant for them, when they come to our country we don’t know if they have a record or not and so they are granted access — we just want to know who is coming in,” he said.

The immigration officers in charge of enforcing these laws believe that necessary legislation already exists: Article 29 of the country’s Migrations Law (25,871) asserts that foreigners who have been sentenced or who have a record for crimes related to “arms, people or drug-trafficking, money laundering or investment in illegal activities” or for “a crime that Argentine criminal legislation deems should have a sentence of 3 years or more” will not be allowed into the country.

The problem however lies in the implementation of these laws, as in many cases, the Government doesn’t have access to the necessary information from the migrant’s host countries. “We have a long way to go,” said sources from the migrations department.

The need to increase the number of agreements allowing the sharing of information from the migrant’s country of origin, such as those that already exist with Colombia, is at the top of the Government’s agenda. As is speeding up the process of expelling immigrants who commit serious crimes in the country, Clarín reports.

With regards to the latter measure, Macri’s administration hinted in August that it had plans to open a “processing” facility.

"Migration's announcement is a breaking point in Argentina's migratory policy," said Amnesty International after the center to hold migrants who committed crimes was opened last year.
“Migration’s announcement is a breaking point in Argentina’s migratory policy,” said Amnesty International after the center to hold migrants who committed crimes was announced last year.

Different social organizations were quick to criticize the decision, arguing that illegal immigration does not necessarily equate to grounds for deportation.

Last year the Government confirmed plans of a decree that would put tighter border control measures into effect.

The breakdown on its main points

  • Investment in infrastructure at border crossings
  • Technological renovation and improvement in the connectivity system to spot criminal records and to capture the requests of those trying to get into the country
  • Stricter questioning at the border
  • Implementation of a “neighboring transit card,” which would allow those who often cross the border back and forth to do so without going through the usual migratory process
  • The card would last 72 hours and allow holders to get 50 kilometers into the country.
  • Expedited expelling of immigrants with irregular paperwork and the opening of detention centers where they will be held until deportation

These kind of policies got a lot of attention late last year when leader of the Victory Front’s (FpV) caucus in the Senate, Miguel Angel Pichetto, called for stricter immigration controls arguing that “Argentina is used as ‘a social austerity measure’ for Bolivia and a criminal [sanctuary] for Peru.”

Pichetto was smacked with pushback over his xenophobic remarks, even President Mauricio Macri was quick to highlight the benefits of immigration. However, the main points of this decree echo what the Senator was once criticised for saying.

Pichetto. Photo via Urgente 24
Pichetto. Photo via Urgente 24

When Pichetto was asked about the previous initiative, he proved resilient to any of the previous criticism he may have received, reiterating his support for the immigration policy: “Argentina has to take care of its borders and to vet which migrants come in. We do not have to let those with criminal records in — but good-willed people, those who want to come and make an honest living here are welcome.”

In contrast, while other members of the opposition agreed on the need for better migratory controls, they warned about the danger of this being used as a platform to implement xenophobic measures.

“If these restrictions are for those with criminal records — then that is reasonable — but we must exert caution when putting up discriminatory barriers in a country where the open door policy is enshrined in its constitution,” said Progressive Front’s National Deputy Margarita Stolbizer.

“We have to be very careful with rhetoric that links immigration and crime.” said Juan Cabandié, National Deputy of the Victory Front (FpV), echoing his concerns towards the policy. “Obviously no one is against immigration controls. But one has to be careful when these xenophobic ghosts are provoked.”