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Chile’s Immigration Is Only A Problem Thanks to the Welfare State

By: Andrea Kohen - @AndreaKohen - Dec 15, 2016, 8:42 am
Chile's immigration problem
Michelle Bachelet is currently working with congress to figure out how to address the country’s immigration problem. (Wikimedia)

EspañolChile has become an interesting destination for many Latin American immigrants who wish to leave their native countries to try their luck at a better quality of life. This has caused the immigration rate into Chile to increase significantly in the last 10 years — reaching two percent, which is far from the current immigration rates in Europe (around 10 percent). Nevertheless, it is alarming.

The issue may be sensitive and delicate for many, especially when the presidential race has already started in Chile. In this context, with Sebastián Piñera, Manuel Jose Ossandón, Ricardo Lagos and other presidential candidates speaking about the issue from various perspectives that can be as extreme as categorizing immigration as a crime, as was the case for Ossandón.

Given the circumstances, it’s a good time to ask what attracts people to certain destinations? And what is the problem they create once they get there?

People immigrate for a variety of reasons, but in the case of Chile, we find stories full of dreams and a search for opportunity. We also find gangs dedicated to breaking the law in ways learned from other countries, forcing the police to prepare for threats they’ve never faced before. But of course, that situation is in the minority of circumstances. Most immigrants are just looking to contribute to society and seek sustenance they could not find in their homes lands.

When immigration picked up in the nineteenth century throughout North and South America, most people who came did it with the eagerness to start a new life out of nothing. This is especially true in Chile’s case, where the south is full of people of Swiss, German, French and Croatian heritage, among others. Chile was a very poor country that offered vast land where people, crushed by European classism, had more social mobility.

Chile offered the possibility of rising through self-imposed hard work. But the 20th and 21st century have seen an important transformation of this attitude and possibility as Chile moved more and more toward becoming a welfare state.

 

When a state becomes a paternalistic one responsible for providing for its citizens and not letting them provide for themselves, it faces a basic economic dilemma of balancing needs and resources — because those needs are infinite and resources are, inevitably, limited.

In this case, needs are provided by all taxpayers and must be shared among more people, which makes the allocations to each much smaller.

Now, for this to be not the case, immigration must be illegal because undocumented immigrants can not apply for state benefits. The documented population, which for purposes of the creation of public policies, are invisible. They do not to exist on paper. It is almost impossible to accurately account for them.

The great problem of immigration is not delinquency, because in a government that fulfills its functions, those who commit crimes will have their fair trial; if they are foreigners, according to the norm, they will return to their countries.

Nor is the problem border entry requirements, because if the corresponding standard is followed or a score system is created, immigration filters will do their job.

The problem is that Chile is a paternalistic state. The problem can be labeled as statism, social democracy or a form of Keynesianism in which the government is providing “social rights.”

In the nineteenth century, no one would have dared to say that immigration was a problem, because the state could not give anything to those who immigrated except under the law of 1845 in which they were provided with oxen, a small amount of wood, a toolbox and empty land. But it becomes a problem when the state starts to offer “social rights.”

Remove state benefits, allow people to freely exchange ideas, goods and services, reduce obstacles to entrepreneurship, affirm without ambush or populist regrets the pro-life laws that support freedom, life and private property. Then, immigration will stop being a problem.

Andrea Kohen

Andrea Kohen is a Chilean historian and economist with a bachelor's degree in Education Studies. Follow her on Twitter: @AndreaKohen.