By Matthew Minor
No stranger to migration, Chile has recently seen a dramatic surge in the numbers of Haitians leaving home in search of economic opportunity.
The Wall Street Journal reported, “last year, almost 105,000 Haitians entered Chile, compared with about 49,000 in 2016 and just a handful a decade ago, according to federal police that oversee border crossings”.
Migrants coming to Chile face a perilous path to the country. The Guardian reported that migrants’ journey takes them through jungles, through minefields, and into the hands of smugglers, locally known as coyotes. One woman, Digna Batista, paid more than $2,500 to a smuggler who took her on a journey through the Andes, through a minefield in the treacherous Atacama Desert, and finally to Chile.
Many migrants come to Chile to seek better jobs, but often face difficulty in doing so. According to US News and World Report, many migrants work in the black market because they cannot easily find employment elsewhere. Chile’s migrants are part of a new trend of migration, one where people move from one developed country to another. According to the United Nations estimates, 92 million people fall into this group of migrants.
Chile’s welcoming of Haitians comes as many countries are cracking down on loose immigration policy. Chilean policymakers have attributed the influx of Haitians largely to xenophobic rhetoric overseas.
In the United States, President Donald Trump’s rhetoric on immigration has discouraged many migrants from entering the United States. In January, the Wall Street Journal reported that President Trump used an expletive to describe people leaving Africa to come to America, saying that America needed to “have people from places like Norway.” President Trump also named Haiti in the meeting, asking, “what do we want the Haitians here for?” Later in January, the Trump administration ended protections for migrants living in the United States. According to the New York Times, nearly 200,000 Salvadorans and 45,000 Haitians will have to leave the country.
In South America, many countries have tightened their border laws. In May 2017, Brazil’s president vetoed a bill that would grant amnesty to immigrants. Brazil’s policy change comes as many asylum seekers flow over the border from Venezuela, fleeing political violence and inflation. Likewise, Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri issued an order that would make it easier for the government to deport immigrants and restrict future entry. These policy shifts contrast with South America’s history of loose migration laws and support for open borders.
Chileans have mixed reactions regarding the influx of migrants. Some Chileans have blamed increased competition for work and strained social services on loose immigration laws. Still, the Wall Street Journal reported that, in a 2017 poll, an overwhelming number of respondents had a positive view of immigrants and their ability to contribute to the economy.
As in many other countries, immigration has become a contentious political issue. During the presidential election at the end of 2017, then-candidate Sebastian Piñera took a tough stance on immigration. Pledging to toughen immigration laws, Piñera “blamed Chile’s outdated immigration laws, written in the 1970s, for ‘importing problems like delinquency, drug trafficking and organized crime,’” according to Reuters.
Despite mixed reception of migrants, immigration can help remedy Chile’s demographic shift. José Ramon Valente, an advisor to president-elect Piñera’s transition team, agrees immigration can help ease the burden of an aging population. According to the Wall Street Journal, Valente said, “when figures start growing, you have to review and have a very good policy, but conceptually there’s a big consensus that we’re a country that’s happy to receive immigrants.’”