January 26, 1999
Argentine opposition says immigrants should stay

                  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
                  American countries.

                  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
                  rising crime.

                  "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 seeking
                  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 for
                  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
                  employing them.

                   Copyright 1999 Reuters.