Right-wing rhetoric fuels immigration debate in Chile.

Author:Witte-Lebhar, Benjamin

Of all the legal legacies Chile inherited from its 20th-century military dictatorship (1973-1990), none are perhaps more divorced from 21st-century realities than the country's immigration system. On that, Chileans of all political stripes and sensibilities can agree. But there is little consensus on how exactly the outdated rules and regulations should be reformed, or what other changes the country should make to accommodate the growing and increasingly diverse foreign-born population.

Issued by decree in 1975, the Ley de Extranjeria y Migraciones (foreigners and migrations law) was designed, among other things, to protect the country from leftist infiltrators. It expressly prohibits, for example, entry of people "who propagate or foment, either by spoken word, writing, or any other means, doctrines that aim to destroy or alter by violence the country's social order or system of government," the Spanish daily El Pais recently reported.

Most would concede that the Cold Warera legislation is ill suited for the current age of globalization, which has seen a growing number of foreigners--drawn by Chile's political and economic stability and relatively high standard of living--make their way to Chile and establish residency there.

Prior to 2011, according to data collected through the government's Encuesta de Caracterizacion Socioeconomica Nacional (National Socioeconomic Characterization Survey, CASEN), foreigners represented between 1% and 1.4% of Chile's total population. By 2015, they represented 2.7%, a low figure compared to the percentages in many developed countries but high by the standards of South America, where on average, less than 1.5% of the population is foreign-born, UN studies suggest.

As of November 2015, the total number of legally registered foreigners had risen to approximately 477,000, a 132% increase since 2002, according to the Departamento de Extranjeria y Migracion (Department for Foreign Issues and Migration, DEM). Nearly 36% of foreign residents hail from Peru. Another 13.3% are of Bolivian origin, and 11.4% come from Colombia. There has also been an influx recently of Haitian and Dominican immigrants. A significant number of US citizens, including retirees, and Europeans, particularly from Spain, have moved to Chile as well.

Many of the newcomers establish roots in the country and stay. The DEM reports that between 2005 and 2014, the number of immigrants applying for permanent resident status rose 202.5%, from 11,907 to 35,024....

To continue reading