Today, one of the great problems throughout the world is that of immigration. At times, we think that this phenomenon is experienced only in Europe and the United States. We might, however, ask how are the Latin American countries dealing with this reality? Father Alejandro Fabres, CM, from the province of Chile, shares some reflections with us.

About a week and a half ago fifty-one Colombians were expelled from Chile. According to news reports, all of them had been convicted of various crimes related to drug-trafficking and were serving their sentence. They were deported and were warned never to return to Chile.

According to polls, the majority of the people applauded this measure … but a bitter taste remains, not because, as some people believe, we want to protect criminal and drug traffickers, but rather because we are criminalizing certain social groups, especially immigrants.

Not, however, just any immigrant, but rather those immigrants who are poor. In other words, poor immigrants are disturbing our peace, especially those who are African-American and/or members of some indigenous group and who speak a different language or have cultural customs different from ours.

Some ten years ago, Adela Cortina, a Spanish philosopher, created a new word to define what the people of Chile are living: aporophobia.

Aporophobia is fear/hatred (phobia) of those who are poor (Gr. aporos). The majority of people would deny this and say that the people who were deported were criminals, individuals who wanted to harm the people of Chile in some manner, parasites…

At the same time, however, we do not say anything about the foreign consortiums that have taken control of our water and our communication networks (the people in Chile have the most expensive telephone bills in Latin America). We believe these companies have come here to invest in our community. Whatever investment they make cannot be compared with the profits that they take out of the country … profits that are worth at least three times their investment. We say nothing because they speak beautifully (we have a weakness for foreign languages, especially English, French, German, Yugoslav) and they have blue eyes and blond hair and they have come to our country to improve the race.

I recently heard that diseases such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, and measles have increased and tripled … AIDS has exploded and has become an epidemiological problem. Over and over we hear people say that the Haitians have brought AIDS to our country because they are all infected with this disease. There is, however, no objective proof to back up those words and no serious studies have been undertaken in this regard. The Department of Health has published these statements but

it is widely known that AIDS has increased because sexual education policies geared toward adolescents and young people have been discontinued … the arrival of immigrants has nothing to do with this situation.

People from Peru have been here for more than twenty years and presently are not the victims of discrimination. Many of them have found their niche in the food service industry and that has allowed them to improve their situation. They are raising their families and paying taxes, which in turn, gives them certain rights. They are integrating themselves into Chilean society, just as the Palestinian community did in the last century.

The people from Venezuela have come here seeking better economic opportunities while the people from Colombia seek refugee from the institutionalized violence that exists in Colombia. Ecuadorians, especially members of the Otavalo indigenous community, are mainly engaged in trade and the people from Haiti were seeking escape from their situation of extreme poverty and misery and have been able to improve their situation here in Chile.

Nevertheless, we have begun to criminalize many of them. The Colombians are here and work as prostitute and drug traffickers; the people from Haiti do no speak Spanish, are not cleanly and for the most part are beggars; the people from Ecuador are traveling salespeople and those from Venezuela are taking away our jobs. Some municipalities are penalizing those persons who take their business from place to place (these people are viewed as a threat to established businesses). My question is the following: why are we punishing these business people? If we truly believe that the people from Colombia are all prostitutes and drug traffickers why not establish policies that will enable them to develop their possibilities and become integrated members of society. Is this not what happened to the people of Chile when they sought refuge from the military dictatorship and migrated to Norway, Finland and Sweden? … and the same could also be said with regard to the people from Haiti and Venezuela.

The poor complicate our situation because then we have to share our resources with other people, resources that we believe are ours.

Everything that I have stated here, I have heard from other people, including many Catholics who justify their fear of migrants and mask it Christian charity … they will say: we should be concerned first of all with our own people who are poor; they would be better off in their own country; I say these things for their own good. We forget that as Christians we are commanded to care for the widows and the orphans and the poor … for foreigners. Let us recall here the words of Scripture where it is stated: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.

We should not allow ourselves to be guided solely by the words that we read in our newspapers, on the internet or in the various social networks. Immigrants are not better or worse than we are, rather they are exactly like us. Their professional, social, and work formation is like ours. They are not going to harm us and in fact, immigrants have always enriched us; they make us more tolerant of our own defects. Let us open ourselves and our society to greater cultural diversity!

Author: Alejandro Fabres, C.M.



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