BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (Reuters) -- The Argentine government on
Monday defended a new bill to crack down on illegal immigration from
accusations that it was a dangerous response to rising crime and high
unemployment in an election year.
"Every country in the world tries to control illegal immigration," Interior
Minister Carlos Corach told reporters.
"I don't see why stopping people from entering the country illegally should
"The aim is to control illegal immigration, not against our Latin American
brothers who come here legally to work," he said.
"They get paid less than they should and are reduced practically to slavery."
Opinion polls show that 12.4 percent unemployment and a rise in violent
crime are top priorities for voters for the presidential election in October, a
contest in which President Carlos Menem's Peronist Party lags behind the
centre-left opposition Alliance.
The bill awaiting Menem's signature before going to Congress proposes jail
terms of 5 to 20 years for smuggling in immigrants to commit drug crimes or
violence, 3 to 8 years for just trafficking in immigrants and fines of up to
$50,000 for firms employing them.
That doubles if the immigrants employed are under age 14.
There are also fines of $500 to $10,000 for unscrupulous landlords
overcharging immigrants. Foreigners convicted of crimes carrying jail terms
of over two years would be expelled.
At present that only happens if they are given convictions of over five years.
The head of the national government's anti-racism unit, Victor Ramos,
defended the bill, saying it was "not against immigrants but against
But Alliance leaders called it electioneering. Ex-President Raul Alfonsin
through a spokesman that the government was "trying to hide the problems
of crime and unemployment."
Sen. Graciela Fernandez Meijide said it was "against the spirit" of the
Mercosur regional trade bloc and the constitution, whose opening
paragraphs speak of equal rights to all Argentines and "all men of the world
who want to live on Argentine soil."
Argentina's relatively high standard of living lures people from poor
neighbors like Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru. Many find low-paid work in
sectors like construction and domestic service, but some families are
reduced to living in illegally occupied "squats" and find themselves blamed
for the rise in crime.
There are no published official figures on illegal immigrants but an amnesty
1994 let 210,000 put their papers in order.
The rise in violent crime has created panic in a country which is traditionally
one of the safest in Latin America. But National Security Secretary Miguel
Angel Toma denied that moves against illegal immigrants were the
government's sole response to the rise in crime: "Crime can only be solved
with an infinite variety of measures, one of which is linked to this."
In Argentina's largest province, Buenos Aires Province, local security
Leon Arslanian warned: "We must act carefully so as not to fall into some
sort of xenophobic, defensive posture."
But his boss Gov. Eduardo Duhalde, who is vying with Menem for control
of the Peronist Party and wants to run for president in October, made his
priorities clear: "Charity begins at home and our home is Argentina and the
Copyright 1999 Reuters.