Tuesday, March 9, 2010

En Chile: Dónde están los peruanos?

Two of the first known victims of last month’s Chile earthquake were Lurde Margarita Arias Dias, a Peruvian immigrant and her infant daughter, who died when their apartment collapsed on them as they tried to escape. (See Frantic Rescue Efforts in Chile as Troops Seek to Keep Order, NYT. February 28, 2010). A large Peruvian immigrant population makes its home in Chile, mostly segregated in the workforce by gender. The women perform domestic work and the men work in construction. Now that Chile is starting to pull itself together after the earthquake, the question come to mind: Dónde están los peruanos? Where are the Peruvian victims? How many other Peruvian immigrants have been the victims of this natural disaster?

We all know immigrants are the most vulnerable of any population, and this is worse during natural disasters. Dean Kevin Johnson deftly told us the story of what happened to immigrants during Hurricane Katrina (see his 2007 piece, Hurricane Katrina: Lessons about Immigrants in the Modern Administrative State in the Houston Law Review.) The situation of the Peruvians in Chile is shaping up to be equally difficult. The influx of Peruvian migrant workers in Chile is widely known, as is their mixed reception from the native Chileans. At present there are an estimated 85,000 Peruvian immigrants in Chile, or about 21% of the total immigrant population. They arrived during the strong economic boom in Chile after 1996. They are the second largest immigrant group after the Argentines. Even with these large numbers, they are not full participants in Chilean society. There are two reasons why Peruvians are excluded from mainstream Chilean society—first, because of their perceived tight knit group (for exaple there is a section of the city of Concepción commonly called Pequeña Lima (“Little Lima”). Secondly, in comparison to the immigrants from Argentina and Ecuador, who are typically professionals, technical workers or students, the majority of the immigrants from Peruvian migrant is that of an unskilled laborer.

Last week, Peruvian President Alan Garcia visited some of the Peruvians in Chile. When he returned to Peru, he took with him approximately 30 of his compatriots back to their country. While this is fortunate for these Peruvians, help for the rest of the victims of the earthquake is slow in coming For example, according to news reports, an eleven day old baby and a one month old infant girl are not being provided any services because of their “lack of papers.” “There is no food, no cash, nothing..” is what some Peruvian immigrants are saying. No Peruvian consular officials have been to visit the immigrant victims. Many are living in tents, and winter in the Southern Hemisphere is soon approaching. The Peruvian and Chilean governments must act swiftly to meet the needs of this population. The fact that they are immigrants should not act to their detriment in these difficult times.

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