Faculty of law blogs / UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD

Exploring the immigration-crime nexus in the Cambiemos administration political discourse (Argentina, 2015-2019)


Federico Luis Abiuso


Time to read

4 Minutes

Federico Luis Abiuso has a Ph.D in Social Sciences (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina). In his CONICET postdoctoral fellowship, he is currently researching the links between politics, police, immigration and crime in the City of Buenos Aires in the period between 2015 and 2019. Professor of Social Research Methodology at the University of Buenos Aires and University of Belgrano. This is the fifth post in the Border Criminologies 'Southern Perspectives on Border Criminology' themed series curated by Rimple Metha and Ana Aliverti. You can find his corresponding article in the International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy here: Construction of Otherness: Links Between Immigration and Crime During the Cambiemos Administration (Argentina, 2015–2019).


In this blog post, I explore the ways of defining the links between immigration and crime in the political discourse implemented during the Cambiemos administration (2015-2019). Cambiemos was a political coalition created between the parties Coalición Cívica ARI, Propuesta Republicana, Unión Cívica Radical, among other minor political forces.                                                                             

A recurring topic during Macri’s Cambiemos alliance administration was an alleged link between immigration and crime, referred to by its leaders and widespread trough different media. Such speeches legitimized and supported changes implemented in the migratory policy, the highest point of this process being the implementation of the Decree of Necessity and Urgency No. 70/2017 (Decree 70/2017) in January 2017, from which the national government formalized changes in Migration Law No. 25,871.

Giving an account of the Cambiemos political discourse can contribute to understanding the ways in which, from a country located within the Global South, different officials have conceived, imagined and shaped the borders in an increasingly globalised world. Borders are not only territorial but also symbolic, and make possible to identify, decipher, and select favourable identities for a country (and for a government), as well as control and criminalise those other ‘unwanted guests’.

In this sense, and as research main results, the discourses were divided along four broad categories: (1) ‘we need to know who is who’; (2) distinction in the types of immigration that arrive in Argentina; (3) tighter controls on the conditions of entry into the country; and (4) crime and migration. In broader terms, and as the argumentative plotline of the article, each of these core categories relates to the articulating axes of the Cambiemos initiatives to manage ethnic and cultural diversity: identify, select, control and criminalise.


The first articulating axis relates to a longstanding imperative from the state’s perspective: the need to identify the ‘suspects’. The narratives fitting under the label ‘we need to know who is who’ often accompanied the implementation of different immigration control measures, such as the effort to limit the arrival in Argentina of immigrants who had a criminal record in their country of origin and the presentation of the Advance Passenger Information (API) system, an initiative obliging airlines to provide accurate information on the criminal records of travellers who want to enter Argentina.


Regarding the second articulating axis, the ‘distinction in the types of immigration that arrive in Argentina’ category places us on the stage of the selection between desired and unwanted immigration, thus being able to identify speeches where officials distinguished those who came to forge the country and those who come, in the present day, to commit crimes. As well as the contrast between a favourable type of immigration for the development of the country and another that, on the contrary, comes to break ‘the pact of coexistence’; and the distinction between those who come to study or work and those who come to commit crimes.

Argentinian police sorting through packages


The speeches analysed also made explicit mention of the need to identify (and therefore, control) those who arrived in the country. In this sense, I described different types of controls and initiatives to control the conditions of entry and stay. In some cases, the officials highlighted the centrality of developing better and more efficient measures aimed at improving technological controls at the borders crossings. In other cases, I was able to identify instances of human control. By way of illustration, inspections carried out by state actors (such as federal security forces and officials from the National Directorate for Migration) on bus passengers from bordering countries.

In addition, in these speeches which I categorized within the ‘tighter controls on the conditions of entry into the country’ category, I pointed out different mentions of the possible expulsion from the country of ‘unwanted guests’.


Finally, I built the ‘crime and migration’ category primarily from the discourse that framed the enactment of Decree 70/2017 and, to a lesser extent, which is linked to other initiatives such as the creation of the National Boundary Commission and the aforementioned API system. This category can be further specified through different characteristics: different criminal activities attributed to ‘immigrants’, the centrality of drug trafficking, and the mention of statistics as a way of giving support from political rhetoric to the links between immigration and crime.

By appropriating the terminology proposed by David Garland in Penal and the penal state (2013) around proximate and background causes, I highlight, regarding the latter, that the ways of defining the links between immigration and crime have different recent antecedents in Argentina, from the 90s to the present. In this sense, different authors affirm that, throughout the 1990s, officials from the national government and security forces appealed to qualifier ‘illegal’, as a cause of insecurity, when they referred to foreigners residing in our country. Similarly, during the same decade, it became common to hear discriminatory expressions towards Bolivian migrants (as well as from other bordering countries) by high-ranking officials and representatives of local institutions, in different fields: the detection and rise of cholera cases, the growth of the unemployment and the interconnected discourse on ‘urban insecurity’ and the ‘foreignisation of crime’ in Buenos Aires.

In turn, and as proximate causes, I referred to the interconnection between the key role of drug trafficking, punitive turn and ‘selective punitiveness’. More specifically, it is possible to better understand the political discourse around the correlations between immigration and crime if we contextualise them within the legislative prominence that drug trafficking had in the period analysed. Due to the centrality attributed to the increases in crime records, convictions and incarceration rate around the offences of narcotics law (Law 23,737), Hernán Olaeta defined this context as ‘selective punitiveness’.

In addition to having been able to identify the ways in which the Cambiemos administration managed the immigration question, considering the particularities of the and the antecedents of the case study linked to Argentina’s history as a country of immigration, the contribution and challenge I bring forth are to theorise and produce empirical research from within the Global South, to counteract the centrality attributed from various fields of study to the Global North.


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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

F. Abiuso. (2023) Exploring the immigration-crime nexus in the Cambiemos administration political discourse (Argentina, 2015-2019). Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/border-criminologies-blog/blog-post/2023/10/exploring-immigration-crime-nexus-cambiemos. Accessed on: 18/07/2024


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