On January 21st, the government of President Mauricio Macri issued an executive decree that makes it easier for Argentine officials to exclude and deport foreign nationals with criminal records. The document specifically refers to the participation by foreigners in the worrisome rise of narcotrafficking violence.
On Friday, January 27th US President Donald Trump signed an executive order halting the admission to the US of all refugees and suspending the visas of people from seven Muslim-majority countries.
The parallels and timing of the measures have led some locally and abroad to question whether the Argentine government’s decree is part of a negative spiral of immigrant scapegoating for which Trump is emblematic. Argentine migrant-protection organizations have indicated they are worried. On February 4th, the New York Times published an article entitled “Argentina’s Trump-Like Immigration Order Rattles South America.”
If Argentina were to help foment a global trend in xenophobia it would be worrisome, and surprising. The country has one of the most open migration regimes in the world. The Constitution guarantees that foreigners enjoy the same civil rights as citizens. Comprehensive legislation, passed in 2003, prioritizes the human rights of migrants. Nationals of fellow Mercosur countries are almost automatically granted legal permanent residency, and extra-regional immigrants also find it relatively simple to be admitted and remain.
To be sure, both decrees should be analyzed in political context. The Macri government hoped to show it is taking action on crime, the issue that is the top concern of voters: Trump was keeping a campaign promise. However, in addition to their substantive differences (one spells out procedures for expulsions and deportations on the grounds of foreigners´ behavior, while the other bans all refugees and people from specific countries) there are various factors that distinguish the Argentine measure.
First, the government presented the decree as a merely necessary amendment to an existing, institutional migration policy that it supports. The text goes out of its way to explain that the government intends for it to comply with international humanitarian law, particularly some rulings by the Inter American Court of Human Rights. Second, it appears that the Argentine decree received input from various actors within the government. At least, high-ranking officials did not immediately start making confusing statements about the measure within hours after its publication.
Contrast this with the decree in the US, which was announced hastily, with numerous contradictions by public officials, and led to immediate havoc, with even legal residents detained
in airports. The US decree was pretty clearly designed to produce fear and further political polarization, serving as the first stage of the cultural war envisioned by Trump’s key advisor Steve Bannon. This is a war almost no one in Argentina is interested in fighting.
Given the times we live in, it is quite possible that the differences between these two cases will be missed. This would be a bad outcome, especially for Argentina’s international reputation and for relations with its neighbors. Politicians should work against letting what should be a rational measure to deal with a few specific problems in an otherwise successful migration policy become the latest exhibit of the world´s rising xenophobia.