BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) -- Argentina's opposition Alliance on Tuesday
called for illegal immigrants to be allowed to stay and accused the Peronist
government of trying to exploit racism against arrivals from other South
The government of President Carlos Menem announced earlier in January
that it was preparing a law to crack down on illegal immigrants it blamed for
"The Alliance seeks the legalization of all the immigrant population, and
believes that behind the crime statistics lies the hand of the government in a
selective and xenophobic plan directed at Latin American immigrants,"
Alliance Deputy Juan Pablo Cafiero said in a news release.
At a news conference, Alliance deputies called on the government to ratify
immigration agreements with South American countries which would allow
their citizens to stay in Argentina.
The centre-left Alliance has a 15-point lead over the Peronist Party in
opinion polls ahead of the presidential election due by the end of the year.
An amnesty in 1994 allowed 210,000 illegal immigrants to put their papers
in order. Argentina has a population of 35 million.
Most of the immigrants came from neighbouring Bolivia, Peru and Paraguay.
Attracted by Argentina's relatively high standard of living, they come
low-paid jobs as building workers or maids. But many end up scraping by.
The Indian features of many of them make them stand out in a country where
most people are of European descent.
The Menem government's defence of its plans has coincided with huge
police sweeps in which up to 1,000 officers at a time search slums, markets
and trains. Hundreds of illegal immigrants accused of petty crime have been
Menem is himself the son of immigrants from Syria.
"The government has ordered the federal police to persecute immigrants,
manipulate crime statistics and sow suspicion and prejudice against the
foreigners who come from bordering countries," Cafiero said.
But immigration chief Hugo Franco said on local radio on Tuesday that
Argentina would continue to open its doors to all would-be immigrants, as
long as they came legally.
"It is a very harsh accusation to say that in Argentina people are arrested
because of the look of their face. That's very far from the thinking of this
government," Franco said.
Franco stirred controversy last week when he said that 60 percent of petty
criminals in Buenos Aires were foreigners.
Polls show high unemployment and rising crime are top priorities for voters
in what has long been one of Latin America's safer countries.
The bill to go before Congress proposes jail terms of five to 20 years
smuggling in immigrants who commit drug crimes or violence, three to eight
years for trafficking in immigrants and fines of up to $50,000 for firms
Copyright 1999 Reuters.