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Dominican Republic Leaves Children Of Haitian Immigrants In Legal Limbo

In the sugar cane fields
In the sugar cane fields
Jean-Michel Caroit

SANTO DOMINGO – In a soft voice, Elena Lorac tells her Kafkaesque story. Born 23 years ago in the midst of the Sabana Grande de Boya sugar cane plantations, 90 kilometers north of Santo Domingo, the young woman is stateless.

Dominican authorities won’t give her a cedula (an ID card), using the excuse that her parents are migrants who came from Haiti to work on Dominican state plantations and who never put their papers in order. “Without a cedula, I can’t do anything, I can’t buy a mobile phone, or open a bank account, or sign up for university,” she says.

Elena wants to study to become a teacher in order to help her mother, who lives alone with her four young brothers and sisters. “She lives in poverty, with God’s help, and she has breast cancer, with no insurance,” says the young girl.

For several months, armed with her birth certificate, Elena was sent from office to office, until March 2010, when an employee at the Junta Central Electoral (JCE), the state registry office, told her she couldn’t get a cedula because her parents “had Haitian names.”

“She told me to go to the Haitian embassy and to declare myself Haitian, but I was born here. I don’t speak Creole or French, I don’t know anybody there, I’ve never been there,” says Elena.

Getting worse

No one knows how many descendants of Haitians born on Dominican soil are in the same legal limbo as Elena. “There hasn’t been any census, but according to several estimates, they are almost 300,000, a majority of whom aren’t registered,” says Francisco Leonardo, a young lawyer who works for Reconocido. This NGO fights for the recognition of the rights of Dominicans of Haitian origin, with the help of the Jesuit help service for refugees and migrants (SJRM).

“The Junta Central refuses to give ID papers on the basis of phenotypical profiles and parents’ names. It lets procedures drag on for years under the pretext of investigation, while the life of the identity seeker is paralyzed,” says the lawyer.

With Reconocido’s help, two groups - one of 28 and the other of 101 Dominicans of Haitian origin - recently won a legal battle in San Pedro de Macoris and El Seibo, in the East. The courts said the JCE “violated the fundamental rights” of the plaintiffs and ordered that it give them cedulas. Far from complying, the JCE undertook an intimidation campaign against young Dominicans of Haitian origin and appealed the decision. “The JCE is using a Supreme Court decision from December 2005 that said that the children of illegal or transiting migrants were not Dominican,” says Leonardo, who says he is ready to continue the fight at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Supreme Court interpretation, which was questioned by prominent jurists, was inscribed in the new Constitution of 2010 by President Leonel Fernandez. He is finishing his third term on August 16, and has entrusted immigration policies to the National Progressive Force (FNP).

Founded by the lawyer Vinicio “Vincho” Castillo – one of Fernandez’s closest advisors – the FNP never ceases to denounce the perils of the “Haitian invasion” and “the great power conspiracy” to merge Haiti and the Dominican Republic, who share the Hispaniola island.

President Fernandez named José Ricardo Taveras, one of the main FNP leaders, to lead the General Migration office. Last June, he published a decree that excluded 30,000 students from schools because their parents were undocumented Haitians. The director had to back peddle after the measure created an outcry.

Pushed into illegality

Created without any consultation, the new migration law also elicited strong reactions. The number of illegal Haitian migrants has continued to increase in recent decades, with the complicity of paid border authorities. Here again there are no official statistics available, and the most common estimate of the number of illegal Haitians is at least one million, approximately 10% of the Dominican population.

For a long time they were concentrated on the sugar plantations, which were mostly state-owned, but they have progressively left this declining industry over the past 20 years. Worn out by the exhausting work in the cane fields, the oldest braceros demonstrated these past few weeks to ask for their 5,117 pesos (106 euros) in monthly pension benefits, which the state owes them but has not yet paid.

Most of the undocumented Haitians now work in the rice, banana or coffee industries, as well as construction. For its large infrastructure projects, like the Santo Domingo subway, the state is still an important employer of illegal labor, either directly or through sub-contractors. Agricultural producers and real estate promoters denounce what they say is the excessive cost of obtaining documents for illegal workers they believe are essential for their activity.

“The current FNP leaders have a bad understanding of immigration realities, and the policies they advocate can only cause more illegality and human rights violations,” says father Mario Serrano, who leads the SJRM.

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How Brazil's Evangelical Surge Threatens Survival Of Native Afro-Brazilian Faith

Followers of the Afro-Brazilian Umbanda religion in four traditional communities in the country’s northeast are resisting pressure to convert to evangelical Christianity.

image of Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Abel José, an Umbanda priest

Agencia Publica
Géssica Amorim

Among a host of images of saints and Afro-Brazilian divinities known as orixás, Abel José, 42, an Umbanda priest, lights some candles, picks up his protective beads and adjusts the straw hat that sits atop his head. He is preparing to treat four people from neighboring villages who have come to his house in search of spiritual help and treatment for health ailments.

The meeting takes place discreetly, in a small room that has been built in the back of the garage of his house. Abel lives in the quilombo of Sítio Bredos, home to 135 families. The community, located in the municipality of Betânia of Brazil’s northeastern state of Pernambuco, is one of the municipality’s four remaining communities that have been certified as quilombos, the word used to refer to communities formed in the colonial era by enslaved Africans and/or their descendents.

In these villages there are almost no residents who still follow traditional Afro-Brazilian religions. Abel, Seu Joaquim Firmo and Dona Maura Maria da Silva are the sole remaining followers of Umbanda in the communities in which they live. A wave of evangelical missionary activity has taken hold of Betânia’s quilombos ever since the first evangelical church belonging to the Assembleia de Deus group was built in the quilombo of Bredos around 20 years ago. Since then, other evangelical, pentecostal, and neo-pentecostal churches and congregations have established themselves in the area. Today there are now nine temples spread among the four communities, home to roughly 900 families.

The temples belong to the Assembleia de Deus, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the World Church of God's Power, the latter of which has over 6,000 temples spread across Brazil and was founded by the apostle and televangelist Valdemiro Santiago, who became infamous during the pandemic for trying to sell beans that he had blessed as a Covid-19 cure. Assembleia de Deus alone, who are the largest pentecostal denomination in the world, have built five churches in Betânia’s quilombos.

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