-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — It must be a sign of the times. Echoing the clampdown of foreign visitors by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration, Argentina is set to tighten its border controls in a country that has long received migrants from around the world.

The move was taken ostensibly to target crime, which many Argentines perceive as unchecked and which they often blame on Latin American migrants.

President Mauricio Macri, a conservative leader elected in late 2015 with promises to take a harder line on security, is paying attention to opinion polls. With Trump leading the way up north, this would be the time to be seen cracking down on crime, even if security issues had also sparked public anger under Argentina’s last president, the left-wing Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

On Jan. 27, Macri issued an "urgent decree" tightening migration regulation, in an apparent response to reports of a dramatic rise in kidnappings. The government counted 104 reported cases of kidnappings for extortion in January, or half the total of last year.

Inside a prison in Buenos Aires — Photo: Hernan Zenteno/La Nacion/GDA/ZUMA

A poll published in late January by the consultancy Poliarquía showed that 69% of respondents "very much approved" stopping foreigners with criminal records from entering Argentina. Eighty-three percent of respondents believed the president's order was on the right track. Other findings: 88% of respondents said foreigners who commit offenses should be thrown out, 69% believed the decree targeted crime. Only a quarter of the respondents saw the order as a political maneuver.

Statistics paint a different picture about who is responsible for crime in Argentina. Government figures show that among the country's 72,693 prison inmates, only 6% are foreign nationals although the Prisons Authority cites that proportion as 22.6%. Many Argentinians also believe that Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru are "drug countries." But only 2% of foreigners arrested for drug charges are from Paraguay. Peruvians and Bolivians also only account for 1% each of the number of foreigners held for drug-related crime.