By Mario Osava,Inter Press Service
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.
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
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.
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
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
The agreement ensures
immigrants equal rights as far as pay, working
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
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.''
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.
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.