Argentina’s president Mauricio Macri has issued a new immigration decree granting law enforcement greater discretion in deporting criminal foreigners, a move that has incensed his Bolivian counterpart Evo Morales and his supporters on the far left.
The decree, issued in late January, allows Argentine immigration officials more flexibility in revoking the legal status of a foreign national present in the country found guilty of a crime. The document specifically mentions organized crime and allows immigration officials to restrict the entry of a foreign national who has committed an act “that would merit deprivation of liberty according to Argentine law” — that is, the legality of such an act in their native country would not negate the ability of immigration officials to restrict the individual’s movement.
The government of neighboring Bolivia, run by leftist president Evo Morales, has condemned the decree. Minister of Defense Reymi Ferreira called the decree “xenophobic,” “discriminatory,” and “racist” on Twitter. “We have to reject this kind of stigmatization against our compatriots that coincides with [U.S. President Donald] Trump’s xenophobic attitude,” Bolivian government minister Carlos Romero said of the action. Morales himself subtly compared Macri to Trump, urging him to “not follow the immigration policies of the north… [let’s be] united for our sovereignty and dignity.”
Argentine Minister of Security Patricia Bullrich has responded by noting that the decree now makes Argentina’s immigration policies identical to Bolivia’s. “The law is the same one Bolivia has, exactly the same for people who have [criminal] antecedents or commit crimes, they are not welcome,” she said, adding, “last year, Bolivia arrested 29 Argentines for drug trafficking… [while] never before has Argentina issued as many visas to Bolivian and Paraguayan citizens as it did last year.”
On Monday, a delegation from Bolivia arrived in Buenos Aires to discuss the new regulation with high-ranking Argentine officials. The move comes as Argentina revamps its immigration processing procedures to minimize the number of foreigners present in the country without government knowledge.
Bolivia is of particular concern to Argentina because it is home to an active drug trafficking community, so much so that President Trump’s calls to build a wall with Mexico to reduce drug crime have become popular among Argentine legislators who represent Bolivian border areas (the Macri government has denied any plans for a wall). Unlike Mexico, where the government nominally opposes drug cartels while accepting bribes from the most powerful among them, Morales is an open advocate for the trafficking of coca, the plant used to make cocaine.
In 2012, Morales used his United Nations General Assembly speech to call for the legalization of coca leaf, waving a leaf before his audience and demanding the overturning of the UN Single Convention Against Narcotic Drugs. Two years later, he gifted then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a birthday cake made of coca leaf to advocate for the plant. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is reportedly investigating several high-ranking Bolivian officials for ties to international drug traffickers.
Morales previously had an ally in the Pink House, leftist former president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Macri has upended the most controversial among the alliances made during the Fernández de Kirchner era, however, including ties with Venezuela, Syria, and Iran. Additionally, as mayor of Buenos Aires, Macri demanded Fernández de Kirchner act to prevent a growing number of drug-related crimes exacerbated by the presence of criminal foreigners. “We should work together in this… against uncontrolled immigration and the advance of delinquency and drug trafficking,” Macri said in 2010.
Macri defeated Fernández de Kirchner’s hand-picked successor, Daniel Scioli, in the nation’s first-ever run-off presidential election in 2015, on a platform of great support for the free market and a divorce from the dubious international alliances made under her tenure. Fernández de Kirchner is currently facing criminal corruption charges.