Argentina’s national government furthers the stigmatization of foreigners

In various remarks in the last few days, Argentine government officials have insisted upon blaming foreign-born people for drug trafficking in our country. Security Minister Patricia Bullrich used skewed and decontextualized statistics and stigmatizing assertions to try to justify a toughening of the nation’s immigration policy, which the government has been announcing for several weeks.

The figures that the minister mentioned on radio and TV were used to present a much greater incidence of foreigners in drug-related offenses than in other crimes. To this end, she stated that while the total number of detained foreigners represents 6% of the prison population, with regard to drug-related crimes that percentage rises to 33%. However, she failed to clarify that the first figure refers to the entire Argentine prison population, while the second one only refers to the Federal Penitentiary Service. By comparing two different data sets, she presented a partial view and exaggerated the impact of foreigners on this problem.

The data produced by the national Justice Ministry regarding the total Argentine prison population shows that the people detained for drug-related offenses represent just 10% of all inmates. That percentage includes both people who committed serious drug-trafficking crimes involving violence as well as “mules” or small-scale dealers – poor people who are also the victims of drug-trafficking networks. Meanwhile, of all the people detained for drugs throughout the country, 83% are Argentines and 17% are foreigners. If the figures are not presented in a skewed way, the incidence of foreigners drops to half of what the minister had asserted. This also shows that the “problem of foreigners” in drug-related crimes is much smaller than the problem of Argentines. Also, how many foreigners are we talking about? 1,426 people, which represents approximately 0.06% of all foreigners in the country. This tiny population is what is being whipped up by the government as a major problem that necessitates modifying, by decree, the country’s Migrations Law and restricting the rights of all migrants.

It is true that the incidence of foreigners in drug offenses is greater than in other offenses, although it is much lower than what the minister said. But this is a phenomenon that is seen in nearly all of the world’s countries, since drug trafficking often has a cross-border component. In addition, the criminal justice system focuses on the weakest players in these networks, who in many cases are poor foreigners. In fact, according to official data, more than 50% of the Argentines who are detained in other countries are there for drug-trafficking-related offenses.

If the government’s concern is centered on foreigners’ participation in drug trafficking, it is not necessary to modify anything since the current Migrations Law provides the tools that would allow for limiting the residence of a person who committed this type of crime. The strategy, in contrast, seems to be to stigmatize migrant persons to justify the unilateral reform of a law that was approved unanimously, thanks to the broad agreements reached and its promotion by different political actors.

In light of the imminent “Decree of Necessity and Urgency” to reform the Migrations Law using a much more restrictive criteria than the current one, more than 150 migrant, human rights, social, ecclesiastic and academic organizations that work to defend the rights of migrant persons requested an urgent meeting with Argentine Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña, in order to propose to him that any modification to the Migrations Law must be debated in the multiple spaces that exist for this purpose, from working groups all the way to Congress. Reforming important laws, which affect rights, via decree is a deficient practice in democratic terms.

Source: Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS).