EFESantiago

The recent steady arrival in Chile of Haitian migrants, who differ sharply from local inhabitants in terms of both culture and appearance, coincides with calls for overhauling the nation's immigration laws.

Nearly 4,000 Haitians a month have entered the South American nation over the past year, according to Chilean National Police figures.

While immigration to Chile is not a new phenomenon, the rapid growth of a Caribbean migrant community with a different language and culture has not been welcomed by some sectors of Chilean society and has coincided with calls for tougher controls on migration.

Former President Sebastian Piñera, a conservative who may seek a new term in office in next year's presidential election, said last month that the nation's immigration laws needed to be reformed to facilitate the expulsion of "undesirables."

"Chile must be open to receiving immigrants who contribute to development, but it must completely seal its borders to drug trafficking, crime, smuggling, organized crime and also to illegal immigration," Piñera said.

Social Development Minister Marcos Barraza criticized those remarks, saying a "certain electoral calculation" was behind them.

Even so, President Michelle Bachelet's government also has said new legislation is needed because the current law regulating immigration flows, which dates back to Gen. Augusto Pinochet's 1973-1990 dictatorship, is outdated and "does not reflect the complexities of coexistence."

Latin American immigration to Chile has quadrupled since the end of Pinochet's dictatorship. A total of 465,300 foreign-born people (out of a total population of 18 million) currently reside in the South American nation, 89.5 percent of them from countries of the region.

Its prosperous economy, social stability and breadth of job opportunities have spurred a notion among Latin Americans migrants of "the Chilean dream."