Illegal Immigrants to See Status Normalized

By Mario Osava,Inter Press Service
November 8, 2002

The ministers of Justice and of Interior from the four Mercosur countries, and from Bolivia and Chile, approved a measure in Salvador, Brazil, to grant legal residency in any of the six nations to all citizens of the bloc.

The agreement awaits the approval of the presidents of Argentina, Brazil,  Paraguay and Uruguay (the four full members of Mercosur - Southern Common Market), and of Bolivia and Chile as associate members, at the bloc's summit slated for December in Brasilia.
The measure would enter into effect immediately in Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, but in Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay it would need parliamentary ratification, Brazil's Justice minister, Paulo de Tarso Ribeiro, told IPS.

The main objective of the agreement is to give legal status to the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants dispersed throughout these outhern Cone neighbors.  In Paraguay alone, there are at least 380,000 Brazilians -- known there as ''Braziguayans'' -- living irregularly, said the minister.

Nevertheless, the accord reached Friday in the northeastern city of Salvador does not call for free cross-border circulation of persons within the bloc, unlike the situation of the 15 countries of the European Union ''That will come in a second phase,'' said Ribeiro, stressing that the regularization of residency status represents a big step forward for the immigrants of the region and is likely to advance economic integration as a whole.

It will also have an important social impact because it marks an end to the conditions that allow the exploitation of undocumented workers and the marginalization of foreigners who do not contribute to the national social security system

and are denied their full rights, noted the official.
The agreement would benefit both those who would like to move to another country within greater Mercosur, and those who have already moved, but who do not hold papers for legal residency.

According to the agreement reached by the ministers, official residency would be granted initially for a period of two years, requiring the presentation of documents proving the nationality of the interested party and the lack of a criminal record.  Permanent residency could be obtained later through proof of ability to economically sustain oneself and one's family.
Mercosur immigrants would have ''equal civil, social, cultural and economic rights and freedoms'' as citizens of the country in question, "particularly the right to work and to carry out any legal activity.''
The agreement ensures immigrants equal rights as far as pay, working
conditions and social security, as well as the right to transfer money back to their country of origin.

The six nations taking part in the effort will be obligated to communicate these rights throughout their immigrant communities and to work together to combat the illegal employment of foreign workers.
It is essential to fight the trafficking of persons who are then subjected to exploitation and degradation, is the justification stated in the agreement text.

Roman Catholic priest Luiz Bassegio, coordinator of the Immigrant Pastoral Service of Sao Paulo, said, ''This is what we have been demanding for so long on behalf of undocumented persons, a general and unlimited amnesty for them.''
Regional integration cannot be limited to finances and trade, it must also cover human beings, Bassegio said in a conver

sation with IPS.  But the measure must be applied broadly and without obstacles, because an amnesty for illegal immigrants enacted in Brazil a few years ago legalized the status of just 38,000 foreigners, said the priest.
The Pastoral estimates there are a half-million illegal immigrants in Brazil, of which 200,000 are Bolivian and 100,000 Paraguayan.  Likewise, many Brazilians are in a similar situation in the neighboring countries.  In addition to the ''Braziguayans'', Bassegio reckons that approximately 15,000 Brazilians live in Bolivia, working in the Amazon forests
extracting natural latex from rubber trees.  But Justice minister Ribeiro disagreed with the figures cited by the Catholic Pastoral, asserting that the undocumented population numbers much fewer, though he admitted that reliable data is hard to come by.

The total Bolivian immigrants without appropriate documents is probably less than 50,000, and Paraguayans less than 20,000, said Ribeiro.
Some 20,000 Brazilians are living illegally in Argentina, and at least 5,000 Argentines in Brazil, he added.   Bassegio and Ribeiro do agree, however, that the legalization of the undocumented immigrants and the freedom of migration within greater Mercosur will prove beneficial for all, will reinstate the dignity of a significant portion of the population and will foment regional integration.
But a shadow looms in Paraguay, where the measure is expected to meet resistance in the Chamber of Deputies, which just last month passed a law prohibiting foreigners from owning Paraguayan land near any national border.  The Senate has yet to vote on the draft law, but its mere existence is indicative of the hostility of some towards the ''Braziguayans'' in Paraguay, many of whom do own land in the border area.

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