More than 30 organizations representing an estimated 2 million migrant workers took to the streets of Buenos Aires on Thursday as part of Argentina's first "migrant strike."
Marking the 11th anniversary of a sweatshop fire which killed six Bolivian migrants, the strike highlighted the vital cultural and economic role of migrants in Argentina and called for the repeal of President Mauricio Macri's executive decree targeting immigrants.
"Faced with the anti-immigration policies of the national government, such as the offensive Decree of Necessity and Emergency, which criminalizes us, removes our rights and makes invisible our contribution to the Argentine economy, especially in a context of economic policies that affects all the workers of the country, we strike," said a statement by the group organizing the action, Migrant Block.
"We strike because migration isn't a crime, it's a human right," declared more than 30 organizations representing millions of workers.
In the face of rising unemployment and decreasing wages brought on by harsh austerity policies — and corresponding labor resistance — the right-wing government of Mauricio Macri took aim at migrant workers in January with a presidential decree making it easier for police to target and deport migrants.
"We strike because the DNU criminalizes and stigmatizes us. Because this anti-migrant policy tries to blame us, make us responsible for the social and economic crisis. Because as workers we declare that we migrated here to be part of growing the nation," added the Migrant Block in their statement.
"I'm Mexican, Peruvian, Bolivian. I'm a psychologist, seamstress, student ... I'm a migrant. I support your economy, your culture, your society," read one of the slogans circulating on social media in the lead to Thursday's actions.
A recent study by the University of February Third found that migrants from more than a half-dozen countries — primarily Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, Brazil, Colombia and Ecuador — pay up to US$1 billion in taxes annually and between 2007 and 2011 contribute up to US$ 5 billion to the Argentine economy.
"Two months ago we came together, as migrants and independent workers, to confront the xenophobia that exists in the country. In Argentina, discrimination, precarity, and exclusion have existed for years, but the (Macri) government has strengthened it, both at the rhetorical level and with concrete measures," said Thomas Valenzuela, one of the organizers of the strike coalition, in an interview with Pagina 12.
Valenzuela's concern was echoed last week by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which warned that with the new immigration decree Argentina was taking "a step backward," and that public statement by government officials was fomenting intolerance and "institutional racism."
The vice chair of the U.N. Committee for Migrant Workers told Pagina 12 that Marci's executive order has itself created a social emergency by criminalizing immigrants.
"There was no emergency, but the decree has created one, and already this measure has directly impacted the daily lives (of migrants) with a rise in discrimination in all areas, and a false association between criminality and immigration," said Pablo Ceriani Cernadas.