viernes, julio 24, 2015

A letter to Trenita Childers

Dear Ms. Childers:

About an hour ago I read an article of yours in the SunSentinel news site with the title "Deportation of Haitians a cautionary tale" in which you draw a parallel between the immigration debate in the Dominican Republic and the U.S.  You are indeed correct in doing that, because you can replace the "Dominican Republic" and "Haitians" with any country and any immigrant group anywhere on this planet and you will get the same story.

I was born in the Dominican Republic and since 1985 I have been living in the U.S. (Puerto Rico, Florida, Ohio, back to Florida and finally Maryland).  Even though the U.S. is home now, I follow closely the news about my native country and have been doing so obsessively since the controversial 168-13 Dominican Constitutional Court ruling regarding birthright citizenship.

You don't mention this ruling on the article I linked above, but I assume you know about it given your work with immigrants in the Dominican Republic.  Besides the article quoted above, I also found your blog and perused the entries in which you discuss your experience in the Dominican Republic and finally the same article I linked about is reproduced in The News & Observer news site with the title "The question of birth citizenship". 

Even though is the same article, something caught my attention as soon as I saw it:  a picture of a couple sitting in a small room with their two kids:

I knew immediately that I've seen this picture before, and the "NYT" in the credit reminded me of a New York Times article by journalist Meridith Kohut that carried the same picture in a slideshow with the same description shown above and the detail that the woman "has been unable to prove citizenship".  I'm going to come out and say that this story doesn't hold water and is not credible, but please don't get angry with me.  I'm not writing you to have an argument and to question your work.

First let me tell you why I think the story of "Roberto and Yoseline" as narrated by Ms. Kohut is inaccurate.  Here's their story as published by Ms. Kohut in the New York Times early this month [emphasis mine]:

Roberto, a Dominican who works at a souvenir shop in the nearby town of Cabarete, is married to Yoseline, a woman of Haitian descent.
She has no documentation, though not for lack of trying. She obtained an affidavit with seven witnesses testifying that she was born in the Dominican Republic. Two days before the government’s registration deadline last month, the family received a letter stating that the paperwork was insufficient.
“Imagine if your wife was born here but faces deportation to a country she knows nothing about,” said Roberto, who spoke on the condition that his family not be identified by last name. “She would be taken away, and our marriage and lives would be torn apart.”
Their children, ages 3 and 1, would be forced to go with her, he fears. They, too, have no documents.
I'll cut to the chase: Roberto is Dominican and according to the country 2010 constitution his two kids are Dominican too.  Article 18 of the Dominican Republic 2010 constitution deals with Dominican nationality and section 1 read as follows [my translation]:

Article 18. Nationality. Dominicans are: 
1- The sons and daughters of Dominican mother or father;
Again I repeat: I'm not looking to start an argument with you, so please bear with me.  Regarding Yoseline, section 5 of the same article 18 of the Dominican constitution read as follows [my translation]:

5-Those who marry with a Dominican, provided they opt for the nationality of their spouse and meet the requirements established by law;

So, according to Dominican law Yoseline and her two kids are Dominican and if the story as written by the Ms. Kohut is true then neither she or her kids are at risk of deportation.  Even assuming that they are not actually married (which is common over there), just by getting married she can obtain Dominican citizenship.

I'm not accusing the New York Times' Ms. Kohut of lying, but the story as written and as quoted in your article can't be true.  Now, why am I writing to you about this?  Because as I mentioned above I've been following the news about the immigration issue in my homeland very closely and almost every day I found examples like the one I quoted above.

I understand that the focus in on the immigrants and I understand as well that your research in the Dominican Republic was focused on this population as well (please, correct me if I'm wrong).  But this immigrant population does not lives in a vacuum and Dominican laws, institution and above all the Dominican people are an integral part of the story.

My guess is that in the story above Ms. Kohut was so fixated and interested in Yoseline's story that she failed to even consider that there might be an easy out from her predicament.  I'm not a journalist, but even if I don't know the law I would ask them "but, if you are married, doesn't that mean that you are Dominican?" or even inquiry about the law in the country.  

In your own writing you start by describing "mass deportations of Haitian immigrants"; are you aware that the Dominican Government claim that they have stopped deportations since 2013?  I'm not asking you to believe in everything that the government says, but can you or anybody quote some evidence to contradict that claim?  

In your story you write about Yolanda, who was born in the Dominican Republic of an Haitian man that has been living in the country since the 1970s.  Yolanda's father was issued a birth certificate for her and her three siblings, but you write that in 2013 a re-definition of the law invalidated her documents (you are referring to the court ruling 168-13).

This is correct, but you left out that law 169-14 reinstated her documentation and that as of now Yolanda and about 55,000 more in her situation are Dominicans with full rights.  Ms. Childers, I really can't understand why important aspect of this story are left out.  Immigration is a complex subject that needs to be discussed with all the actors that influence this human drama.

Where is the Haitian state in this human drama?  Why is it that the Haitian people are abandoning their country in droves to move to the Dominican Republic and other nearby countries?  Yes, I know... to find why can't they work in their own country? Well, there's no work over there...but why?  What is the Haitian state doing to improve their situation?

Where is the Dominican people in this drama?  Why nobody mentions those Dominicans that live side by side with their Haitian neighbors?  How is the relationship between immigrants and their hosts?  You write about "Conservatives in the Dominican Republic" and their complains about immigrants.  I know these people exist, but...are those the only voices speaking about Haitians in the Dominican Republic?  

According to a survey carried out by Gallup in February 2014 and quoted by Dominican daily Hoy, 68% of Dominicans are in favor of an amnesty for Haitians workers living illegally in the country.  Why are those Dominicans voices that are in favor of amnesty not part of the conversation.  Why nobody quotes them?  There is not welfare in the Dominican Republic of the kind available in the U.S. or Europe, which means that Haitians immigrants are either working or depend on charity.  

Who is hiring them?  Do each and every one of them work in sugar cane fields?  Who is helping those that can't work?  Somebody is...why is that somebody not part of the story?  Why is it that only "conservatives" who strongly dislike Haitians are the only ones that speak for all of us?

This is a very complex subject and I don't say that to be condescending.  Almost every day I learn something new about this issue and I understand why somebody focusing in just one aspect of this story will miss significant details about it.  I don't think that you intend to misled and I want to be clear about this.  I just want to let you know what I've been trying to say to every journalist and academic that I've been able to engage in dialog about this issue: please, be mindful of what is being left out and the voices that are not being heard.


Ulises Jorge
Maryland, USA

2 comentarios:

Trenita Childers dijo...

Dear Ulises,

First, thank you for such a thoughtful and engaged response to my op-ed. I would like to address as many of your comments as I can to give you an idea of my thought process as I wrote the piece you reference.

First, sometimes there is a disconnect between authors and the media sites that publish people's work. For example, I wrote the piece, but I did not choose the picture that runs with the article. I agree with you, the picture causes confusion because the family's situation in the photo is not the same situation I'm describing in my piece. So, yes, you only need one Dominican parent to gain Dominican citizenship. However, this is less straight-forward than it seems. Based on my experience in the country, since women give birth and are "front line" in the hospitals, she may be given "foreigner papers" if she is Haitian, even if she explains that her child's father is Dominican. Once they leave the hospital, it is quite a circuitous process for Dominican fathers to get citizenship for children born to Haitian mothers -- but, it is not impossible.

Second, you mention my use of the phrase "mass deportations". It is true that they are not government sanctioned - but we know that people with authority do operate outside of government authority...often without penalty. Also, we could argue about how many people are being unlawfully deported, and what constitutes a “mass” but really, it’s hard to know since they’re not sanctioned. I’d like to consider, however, that there is a gap between government mandates and what happens on the ground.

This also relates to your comment about Yolanda having her citizenship "stripped" - but the Dominican government re-instated citizenship for all persons affected. This is also true. But as of May 20th when I left the DR, Yolanda still could not use her government ID card (cedula). So, while by law she got her citizenship back, in practice it was not yet reinstated. I would guess, based on my experience living and working in the country, that the offices responsible for reinstating cedulas are overburdened and, perhaps, disorganized. This would result in reinstatement but in very unsystematic ways which might mean people fall through the cracks or that the process takes much longer than one might think.

Lastly, you make a fair point about whose voice shapes the narrative of this debate. Because I was frustrated by friends and colleagues who say “I can’t believe Dominicans are treating Haitians this way”, I wanted to complicate this statement by NOT lumping all Dominicans together and by examining this situation for what it is – a political immigration agenda. And this is something all countries can connect with. So, we hear conservative voices right now because they have the political power to change laws. As a sociologist, I am concerned with policies on birthright citizenship because they have a direct impact on the lives of immigrants and children of immigrants. I’m also concerned with the accessibility of policies. For example, the Dominican government created a regularization plan to document both foreign-born and Dominican-born people. However, many in the target populations face barriers such as high poverty and low literacy. How successful can such policies be without considering these factors?

Again, I do appreciate your engagement in this topic. I hope that we can learn from one another.

Warm regards,

Ulises Jorge Bidó dijo...

Dear Trenita,

I really appreciate a lot your response and willingness to engage in conversation about this matter. I agree with you that dealing with the bureaucracy in the D.R. is not a pleasant experience, specially if you are poor and not well connected. Things have improved a lot, but the experience that your describe for “Yolanda” is not atypical for many Dominicans, including myself.

I come from a working class background, there was always food at the table but even I had difficulties getting copies of my birth certificate or renewing my “cédula”. I often have to rely on relatives to help me with the paperwork and burdensome requirements.

So if you are poor, living from hand to mouth is not surprising that meeting basic requirements to obtain proper documentation is an impossible task. I agree with you on that, and my main point is that this is not exclusively a problem that affects Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian ancestry as it is often portrayed in the media.

I would like to address what you wrote about people that “operate outside of government authority” carrying out mass deportations. I have been looking at this allegations as they are reported by the media and I’ve been trying to determine is there is any truth behind them. The problem I have is that they are often attributed to unidentified “human rights organizations” and they lack specifics that would help in confirming if they are true or not.

In fact, I had a conversation with journalist Adam Reilly from WGBH news in Boston, who graciously gave me his email so that I could address my concerns. He had a video report in which he interviewed an employee from a Boston based NGO who had just travelled to the border and claimed that people were being chased out of their homes by armed gangs. I asked Mr. Reilly about the lack of specifics in these claims (where did this happen? When?); after all, if we can get video reports from Syria and Iraq, why can’t we see evidence of these acts in the Dominican Republic?

It’s not difficult to find today recents acts against Haitians in the web, so surely somebody should have some evidence of the “recent atrocities” that people keep talking about.

Finally, I would like to address your statement regarding the regularization plan and the apparently inability of the “target populations” to take advantage of it. You mention high poverty and low literacy as barriers, but there’s another factor that directly affect the foreign-born (who are mostly from Haiti) and indirectly those that were born in the D.R. I’m talking about the failure of the Haitian State to issue proper documentation to its own citizens.

The regularization plan required that those applying to it present at least one form of official documentation from their own country; after all, it’s not unreasonable to required that somebody claiming to be “John Doe, from Haiti” actually proves that he is “John Doe, from Haiti”. The Haitian government promised at the start of the regularization plan that this documents will be provided , but it failed to do so as confirmed by former Haitian ambassador to the D.R. Daniel Supplice in a letter to Haitian presiden Martelly.

I understand that the focus of your research in the immigrant population, but they just didn’t materialize out of thin air in the D.R. territory. There is a reason why they were forced to leave their country in search of a better future by crossing the border. After all, what will happen if the D.R. manages to successfully provide every citizen or foreign born resident of the proper documentation? What would happen with new immigrants that may arrive without documents… is the D.R. expected to provide documentations from them too and take them at their world that they are who they say they are?

Thanks again for your response and your interest in this matter.

Best regards,