Those of you reading this post in North America and Europe may not be aware how prevalent immigration is in the more economically fortunate countries of Latin America. Chile is no exception. Throughout its history, this country has opened
its doors to immigrants from many countries around the world, especially from Europe. The main immigrant groups were from Germany, Italy, Spain, Croatia, France, Belgium, Switzerland, and some Arab countries like Palestine and Syria. This influx has left its mark on Chileans' physiognomy, cuisine and culture. The descendents of these immigrants have played a pivotal role in politics, business, medicine, and other notable fields that have undoubtedly enriched Chile.
Starting in about 2010, Chile began receiving waves of immigrants from non-European countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Some of these people had a trade or profession, and were able to legalize their status. Others did not. At present, the most notable and needy immigrant group is the Haitians arriving at the rate of 300 per day, and totaling somewhere around 300,000.
Most Haitians who come here are desperate because of the civil strife in their homeland that does not allow them to live a decent life. It used to be that they would seek a home in the United States or in other developed countries, but from what I have researched, these countries changed their immigration policy, making it more attractive to settle in a country with a less strict immigration system.
As it stands, most Haitians arrive on a tourist visa, and are legally allowed to stay in the country for 90 days. They also need to demonstrate that they have enough funds to defray any costs during their stay in such a way that they are not going to be a burden to the Chilean government. Nevertheless, in most cases, entering the country on a tourist visa is just a way for an immigrant (illegal/undocumented) to get his or her foot in the door and hopefully gain residency at some point.
Once on the ground in Santiago and throughout the country, these immigrants get jobs in various fields, usually manual labor. You will find them in construction, the service industry, agriculture and as street vendors. They are sometimes paid less than the minimum wage of $382. This means that they do not have sufficient funds to live well. They sometimes live in cramped quarters with a single bathroom for several people. This also means that the state must step in and help them with education and health, among other areas.
Therein lies the conflict. Should the Hatian immigrants be encouraged to come Chile, helped by the government, welcomed by the Chilean populace? Or should they be discouraged from coming and shunned? I have read and heard two opinions, often vehement, about this issue. One is that these immigrants are making the country poor, bringing diseases, glutting the public health system and sometimes even throw in crime, which I cannot attest to.
The other argument is that immigration is healthy for a country and that immigrants are not taking Chilean jobs, but rather doing chores that Chileans shun. In fact, Michelle Bachelet, Chile's former president, favors immigration and says that it does the country well. Also out there is the remark that: "All of us are descendents of immigrants".
The truly vehement pro-immigration proponents will attack those who are not necessarily in favor of it carte blanche by telling them that they are xenophobes, racist, and the one that irks me: ignorant. Now the person not so in favor of immigration has the task of either ignoring these labels or defending him or herself. I, for one take issue with them.
Whenever there is a change in society, some people embrace it, but others would rather have it the way it was before. If you belong to the latter category, does that mean that you are necessarily xenophobic? If you see that an immigrant group is having a negative impact on your city or town, do you then not have the right to give your opinion without blatantly making that group unwelcome? If it stays in your mind or with people you know and you do not act on it in the street, then you are not being xenophobic. The same goes for racist. Now, I take that word seriously, because if you truly are a racist, then you will you considered a terrible person by many. It means you carry a grudge and that you think you are superior to people of another race.
An underlying argument that enshrines the term racist, in response to a planeload of Haitians that arrived at the Santiago International Airport in an unmarked plane in the middle of the night is: Would you be having this adverse reaction if they were Europeans instead of blacks? I almost got trapped on that one. My answer is not necessarily. If the planeload of Haitians were comprised of businesspeople or dignitaries dressed in suits, and all of them had the proper papers, then no. Conversely, if I saw a planeload of Swedish convicts descend onto the tarmac, then you better believe I would discriminate against them!
As far as the word ignorant, I would really like to know what people mean by it when they accuse others of being so. Does it mean that you do not share their views or that you did not read the latest report by the UN? Do you really need to study up on these affairs in order to voice an opinion? Maybe even if you read a significant amount of literature on immigration, or whatever the issue, whereby someone is calling you ignorant, who is to say that you wouldn't have the same opinion, thus being labeled ignorant all the same?
To close, I would like to say that both the Chilean government and migrants themselves should take a path that leads to a more amenable coexistence with the populace. Stricter quotas should be set as well as more requirements to enter the country should be put into place. And I say this without being xenophobic, racist or ignorant.