A Report from the Field: Perspectives on Citizenship and Immigration Law - An Analysis of Argentina’s National Migration Act

Leanne Purdum is a doctoral student in the University of Georgia's geography department.  This summer, she traveled to Argentina for one month with the help of a Tinker Field Research Grant to explore topics related to immigration.

This summer I was fortunate to receive Tinker Field Research Grant support that allowed me to spend one month in Argentina. Over the course of four weeks I conducted summer research to begin understanding why federal immigration laws have recently been highlighted by U.S. legal scholars as exemplars of an open door policy to immigrants. My time spent there was aimed at learning the larger context of immigration history in Argentina and learning about The Argentina National Migration Act of 2004. During the summer I was able to establish contacts with organizations I could work with in the future, exchange knowledge with other students of immigration law, identify future areas of research, and gain general knowledge of the country that will facilitate my return. Overall, the trip has moved me forward in my progress towards my degree and increased my understanding of immigration in Argentina. This will help me as I continue to think through immigration policies in the U.S. and abroad.

at the museumAt the museumAt the National Immigration Museum in Buenos Aires I learned about the larger history of immigration in Argentina, which was shaped by a large influx of European immigration during the 1800’s, quite similar to that of the U.S. The museum, which is sited at the hotel where immigrants were housed as they were processed upon their arrival, features racks of records showing how the paperwork was processed long ago and contains exhibits comparing them to the immigration management systems of the modern day.

My attendance at the regional meeting of the International Studies Association was one of the most important elements of my time in Argentina. I was able to represent UGA at a conference organized by faculty of the University of Arizona, joining hundreds of students from all over South America to discuss their work; it was there that I met several others who study immigration issues in the country. One contact was Dr. Lila Garcia, a legal scholar whose research focuses on the 2004 Migration Act and the process for gaining legal status as part of the Patria Grande Program. She helped me to understand the underlying context of the 2004 migration Act, Patria Grande, and the larger scheme of migration laws in the country.

I learned about the process for gaining legal residency in the country, and met many people who told me their personal experiences. Some told me about entering the country on a tourist visa and applying for a student permit from within the country, which is vastly different from U.S. policy. Others told me about their work with immigrant women from Bolivia and their struggles with a bureaucracy that makes the legal immigration process so difficult that it is not a practical option for them to pursue, despite their eligibility for legal status. These connections also lead to my attendance at a Master’s thesis defense for a student at the University of San Martin in Buenos Aires, where I was the only attendant from outside of the University. I am now in contact with researchers there in the Anthropology, Law, and Political Science departments.

In addition, I made contacts with the leaders of the Organization of United Peruvian Migrant and Refugee Women, who have offered to speak with me should I return. I also, with the help of some scholars I met while I was in Buenos Aires, learned about the city immigration courts and the availability of documentation from their systems. I was taught how to navigate the systems of libraries and archives, including the National Library, where I spent time reading books about the history of migration in Argentina.

All of these experiences have moved me towards designing a strong dissertation related to migration laws in Argentina – it might be a comparative project analysis that contrasts these policies with those in the U.S., or one focusing on Argentine policy alone. Along with the contacts and relationships I gathered during my time in the country I have returned with a set of books, articles, news events and larger topics that I can continue investigating from Georgia as I design my dissertation. While the focus of my previous research has been to explore the politics of the U.S., I think investigating the politics behind Argentina’s relatively open immigration policies will let me ask questions about nationality and our domestic attitudes to immigrants in yet another context. Of course, all of these interactions also improved my language abilities.

Overall, I think an interesting topic with which to move forward may be the comparative politics of the “illegal” in the U.S. and Argentina. Both countries have national debates and policies aimed at persons without documentation (which is often called “illegal” in the U.S, and “irregular” in Argentina). However, where the U.S. continues to implement and maintain a highly restrictive immigration policy, the 2004 National Migration Law has been described as a “policy shift” toward much more open policies for immigrants. Before 2003, Argentina's immigration legislation aligned closer to that of the U.S and focused on the deportation of undocumented immigrants and denying basic social benefits such as health care and education. A recent census counts over a million immigrants in Argentina from Paraguay, Peru, and Bolivia. However, between 2006 and 2010 over 800,000 people applied to become legal residents in Argentina. This human rights based policy is not found in any other country receiving large numbers of immigrants. In U.S. immigration law the phrase “policy shift” is used to reference state-level restrictive laws, such as Georgia House Bill 87. Interestingly, I found that some scholars I talked with in Buenos Aires were intrigued with the descriptions of what “illegality” means in the U.S. and the legal status (or lack thereof) of so many people. I think continuing to explore this in some way could be a useful project in my studies of legal geography.