While Donald Trump says he would deport millions of illegal immigrants from United States on assuming Oval Office next year, one Latin American country is still keeping its door open to the poor of the continent.
More than 34,400 Haitians came to Chile in the first nine months of this year, and it is just the beginning. Coupled with Colombians, Peruvians, Dominicans and Venezuelans, Chile is now taking in immigrants at a similar pace to the U.K., relative to their populations.
Being South America’s wealthiest nation, Chile is attracting more immigrants from all over the poor parts of the continent seeking jobs and a better life.
However, according to Laura Millan Lombrana of Bloomberg, a risk of active racism in the streets is feared in the absence of strong migration policy, as the numbers are rising fast just as unemployment is edging higher and wage growth edging lower.
For now, only a few Chilean politicians see the rise in migrants as an issue. The law regulating immigration is 40 years old, and plans to overhaul the system are unlikely to get through congress before the next election in November 2017.
Future flows will depend on economic opportunity, rather than government policy.
“Chile needs migration for economic and demographic reasons,” said Rodrigo Sandoval, head of the Migration Department. “But the economy’s capacity to process it is limited. You can already see in some areas of Santiago that the number of Haitians is exceeding what the economy can tolerate.”
Experts believe the flow of immigrants could rise to a whole new level if the Pacific Alliance trade bloc of Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico pushes ahead with plans to implement the free movement of labor, copying the European Union.
Donald Trump has already announced the United States will withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal on his first day in office.
Mexico has a population of 122 million, Colombia has 47 million and Peru has 30 million. All of them dwarf Chile’s population of 17 million, while its income per capita is more than double that of Peru and 40 percent above Mexico’s.
Chile’s Migration Bill
Chile’s legislation on immigration dates from 1975, just two years into Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, a time when more Chileans were leaving the country than foreigners were entering. The decision to let someone enter the country is still left to the discretion of individual police officers at the borders.
It is high time that Chile’s political parties lead the integration process, regulating entry and protecting immigrants. If the inflow is allowed to go unchecked and unregulated, there is space for populism.