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October 1996, Volume 3, Number 10

Immigration into Argentina

Argentina (36 million population) is a magnet for migrants from Bolivia (seven million), Peru (24 million) and Paraguay (five million).

Argentina has an estimated 200,000 illegal immigrants, and the debate over what to do about illegal immigrants sounds very familiar to Americans. There are those who say that, with a 2,500-mile western border which has 795 crossing points, Argentina cannot stop illegal immigrants, and that Argentineans do not want to do certain types of jobs.

The Bermejo River that separates Argentina ($8,200 per capita GNP) and Bolivia ($900 per capita GNP) has been likened to the Rio Grande. Bolivians have long been Argentina's migrant workers, cutting sugar cane and picking oranges in the northern provinces, and working their way south to vineyards in the wine country and potato farms near Buenos Aires. More recently, Bolivians have found jobs picking apples in the flatlands near Patagonia, replacing Chileans.

Some Argentineans complain of the "Bolivianization" of northern Argentina.

The countries of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and soon Bolivia are linked in a free-trade area, and there is a long-standing tradition that allows the free transit over borders of residents living within 30 miles of the border.

Some estimates put the number of illegal Bolivians in Argentina at 200,000. Many are in Buenos Aries, where Korean-owned textile factories hire illegal Bolivian and Paraguayan workers for as little as $300 a month for a 60-hour week.

Argentina in July had a 17 percent unemployment rate, which has led the government to step up the enforcement of immigration laws. One requirement, that tourists from neighboring countries show they have at least $1,500, has spawned a new business--the lending of $1,500 by the hour so that Bolivians and Peruvians can enter Argentina.

Argentina in 1991 had five percent foreign-born residents, down sharply from 1914, when one-third of Argentina's residents were born abroad--40 percent of the foreign born were from Italy, and 35 percent from Spain.

In Peru, unemployment is eight percent, and underemployment is 75 to 90 percent. About 20 percent of Peruvians live in "critical poverty."

Gabriel Escobar, "Free Trade Leads to Mobile Labor as Bolivians Seek Jobs in Argentina," Washington Post, September 15 1996. Sebastian Rotella, "Argentina's frontier of promise; a country shaped by European settlers sees its future in new immigrants from its impoverished Latin American neighbors," Los Angeles Times, June 8, 1996. Felix Raucana, "Peru's war on poverty stalls; for the 55 percent facing hard times, the emergency handouts and aid programs have failed," Chicago Tribune, June 7, 1996.