Photo via Panoramio

In a political act months in the making, President Mauricio Macri signed a decree to strengthen border control in Argentina today.

The most relevant aspects of the law prevent people with criminal records or who have been a part of a criminal organization, like drug, human and organ trafficking rings from entering. The policy update also stops people presenting false documentation or omitting information about their record at the time of entering the country. It also accelerates the process to expel foreigners who commit serious crimes.

For those who have overstayed their tourist visas and go back and forth from Uruguay every 89 days, fret not, this does not amount to a cause for deportation.

The timing of the decree, however, may have not been as good as the Government had been hoping for. The decision comes days after United States President Trump signed an executive order which severely restricts immigration from seven Muslim majority countries, while suspending all refugee admissions for 120 days and bars Syrian refugees indefinitely.

As a result, multiple Government officials have quickly come out to deny any connection their policy has to what is taking place in the US. “We have to distinguish those measures from the ones that have to do with safety,” said Vice President Gabriela Michetti, adding, “Cambiemos’ stance is contrary to Trump’s latest statements on immigration in the United States and the wall.”

Vice President Gabriela Michetti. Photo via
Vice President Gabriela Michetti. Photo via

This will be a tough pitch to sell to the Argentine public with many members of the opposition and human rights organizations voicing their concerns over the possibility of the policy becoming discriminatory instead instead of being the “reasonable” safety measure the Government claims it to be.

Once it was confirmed that the Government would follow through with the initiative, the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), Amnesty International, as well as other organizations, released a statement warning that “these kind of proposals that associate migration with crime installs a false problem that displaces a real debate over how to address security and violence in a globalized world.”

That’s why the Government — supported by members of other parties who support the initiative, like Sergio Massa —  is trying its best to strike the balance between being a country with ‘secure’ immigration policies, while also 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.

Although not a member of the Macri administration, leader of the Victory Front (FpV) caucus in the Senate, Miguel Angel Pichetto, had already come under heavy fire last year when he asked for stricter immigration controls, asking “how much misery could Argentina tolerate” by taking in migrants from neighboring countries.

Security Minister Patricia Bullrich has been one of the measure's staunchest supporters. Photo via Infobae.
Security Minister Patricia Bullrich has been one of the measure’s staunchest supporters. Photo via Infobae.

These are the most important points of this decree which, according to the Government, was issued due to “the need to work tirelessly to perfect immigration policy” and to address the “increase in foreigners in federal prisons, which has reached 21.35 percent of the total” amount of people serving time in Argentina. The decree also made it clear that people who do not have the economic means to defend themselves legally will be provided with a lawyer.

  • People who have been tried for crimes in their countries of origin, that in accordance with Argentine criminal law, deserve a sentence of more than three years in prison, will be deported. Drug, arms and human trafficking, as well as money laundering, are some examples outlined in the new law. Why tried and not sentenced? Because the law doesn’t require for the person to have effectively been sentenced. It will be enough for the person to have had his or her indictment confirmed by a court of appeals. This means that the judge in charge of the case considers the accused party to be guilty, and sends the case to a criminal court for sentencing.
  • People who belong (or have belonged) to any criminal organizations dedicated to committing any of the previously mentioned crimes — even if they haven’t been tried or sentenced — won’t be allowed in the country either. “A report [from an authorized organization] saying that the person is part of a network” of this kind is enough to prevent their entering the country and can be grounds for deportation if they are already here. In order to do this, the Government intends to sign several agreements with other countries, allowing for information sharing between the migrant’s country of origin.
  • Immigrants who paid to be smuggled into the country, or were brought here as a part of a human trafficking operation will be able to obtain residence and avoid deportation if they turn in the person or organization who helped bring them in.
  • People who present falsified documentation or omit information about their criminal record will also be prevented from entering the country.

As for foreigners who commit crimes in Argentina

  • The decree will speed up the process for expelling foreigners who commit crimes requiring jail time of over three years from Argentina. The same applies for people who committed a crime in their countries of origin, the system doesn’t need an actual sentence, but an indictment that has been confirmed by a court of appeals is enough to remove the person in question from Argentine soil. This will be done in an “express” process that would not last more than two months, Página12 reports.
  • It will increase the amount of time foreigners are banned from reentering the country after being deported for committing crimes. Before the decree it was five years, but can now be eight years for some crimes.