Monday, September 8, 2008

Dominican Crackdown Leaves Children of Haitian Immigrants in Legal Limbo


Ángel Luis Joseph, 17, training with a friend near San Pedro de Macoris, the Dominican Republic. His status as the child of Haitian immigrants threatens his dream of playing in the United States.

SAN PEDRO DE MACORIS, Dominican Republic — Two obsessions define this
country: baseball and Haiti. Ángel Luis Joseph, a teenage outfielder with a
hot bat, is caught between Dominicans’ devotion to the one and disdain for
the other.

So many major leaguers have emerged from this sugar town that agents keep an
eye on even pint-size players with potential. Ángel, 17, was only a lanky
grade school boy when his coach noticed he showed all the signs of becoming a
standout. Before long, the San Francisco Giants came calling with a $350,000
offer, he said.

But then politics interfered with his dream. To obtain a visa to the United
States, Ángel went to a local government office to get a copy of his birth
certificate. Little did he know that the Dominican government had recently
begun a crackdown on the children of Haitian immigrants, even those like him
who have lived their whole lives in the Dominican Republic.

“If your last name is weird, they won’t give you your documents,” he
said. “Same thing if your skin is dark like mine.”

Ángel’s request for his birth record was denied, prompting the Giants to
withdraw the offer.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="190" caption="San Pedro de Macoris has produced many baseball players. "]San Pedro de Macoris has produced many baseball players. [/caption]

His parents, like hundreds of thousands of others, moved from Haiti to the
Dominican Republic in the 1970s to work in the sugar cane fields. Their
children were born in the Dominican Republic, grew up here and became, in their
eyes at least, full-fledged Dominicans. They speak Spanish, dance merengue and
play “pelota,” the popular name for the Dominican pastime baseball.

“They don’t play baseball in Haiti,” said Melanie Teff, who has studied
the issue for Refugees International, an advocacy group in Washington. “That
shows how Dominican this guy and many people like him are.”

The government does not necessarily agree, and Ángel awaits a ruling on his
appeal for access to his Dominican birth record.

The issue arose with a fury several years ago when advocates took the
government to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, whose jurisdiction the
Dominican Republic acknowledges, to protest the denial of birth certificates to
two ethnic Haitian children.

While the case was in process, the government changed its migration law in 2004
to specifically exclude the offspring of Haitian migrants from citizenship. The
Dominican Constitution grants citizenship to those born on Dominican soil,
except the children of diplomats and those “in transit.” That has long
meant that the children of immigrants, no matter their legal status, gained
Dominican citizenship.

After the international court ruled against the Dominican government in 2005,
ordering that damages be paid to the two children, the Dominican Supreme Court
said that Haitian workers were considered “in transit” and that their
children were therefore Haitian, not Dominican.

Last spring, the government agency in charge of identity documents, the Joint
Electoral Council, issued a memorandum telling its employees to watch for the
offspring of foreigners trying to identify themselves as Dominican. It now
hangs at every clerk’s office and is shown to people thought to have Haitian

“The issue of Haiti has become very combustible in the Dominican context,”
said Daniel Erikson, director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American
Dialogue, a research group in Washington. “You have a deep resentment of
Haiti, and that’s driving these responses that don’t reflect favorably on
the country.”

Government officials point out the strain that poor illegal immigrants from
Haiti put on the Dominican Republic. The two countries share the island of
Hispaniola but have vastly different levels of development.

Of course, Haitians contribute, too. They have long worked in the jobs
Dominicans did not want to do, mostly cutting cane on plantations that supply
sugar to the United States. The government has not just known of their presence
for decades but has in some cases encouraged their arrival.

The Dominican government says the new crackdown is a security matter, aimed at
wiping out fraud. And in some cases over the years, young Haitians who had
crossed the border illegally claimed to have been born on the Dominican side.

But opponents accuse the government of applying its 2004 law retroactively,
which they call an illegal practice that has longstanding societal animosity
against Haitians at its heart.

“The racist beliefs of some are being used to twist our laws,” said
Cristóbal Rodríguez Gómez, a Dominican constitutional law professor at
Ibero-American University, who is acting as counsel for another descendant of
Haitians who lacks documents. “This is a crime, a monstrous crime.”

In a recent report, two United Nations experts found “a profound and
entrenched problem of racism and discrimination” in the Dominican Republic,
mostly affecting people of Haitian origin. The report said Haitians and their
descendants face “extreme vulnerability, unjustified deportations, racial
discrimination, and are denied the full enjoyment of their human rights.”

The Dominican government rejected the conclusions, portraying the relationship
between the neighbors as one of solidarity.

Ángel is one of many who find their lives in limbo under the new rules. Emildo
Bueno Oguis, 33, a college student who recently married an American woman,
could not get his birth certificate either and therefore cannot apply to the
American Embassy for residency to join her in Florida.

Mr. Oguis, whom Mr. Rodríguez represents, challenged the government’s
decision in court, accusing the council of denying his rights. But his claim
was rejected, despite the fact that he had previously been issued a Dominican
identity card and a Dominican passport.

Confusing the matter, a lower court judge ruled in favor of another descendant
of Haitian immigrants, Nuny Angra Luis, who had been denied her birth
certificate. That decision was announced the same week in April as the other,
diametrically opposed ruling.

Demetrio F. Francisco de Los Santos, a government lawyer, dismisses the notion
that anyone’s rights are being violated. Descendants of Haitians, he argues
in court documents, can simply go to the nearest Haitian consulate for their

While Haitian law does grant citizenship to the offspring of Haitians, the
issue is complex. Ángel’s parents would have to prove they are Haitian for
him to get citizenship in Haiti, a country which he has never visited.

While some are indignant about the Dominican crackdown, Ángel seems
surprisingly calm.

Before a recent practice, in which he flagged fly balls and then fired them
into the infield, Ángel said his mother could not sleep after he lost the
Giants contract. (“Ángel Luis Joseph is one of a number of players in the
Dominican that clubs are finding do not have the proper paperwork to prove
their identity or age,” the Giants said in a statement, indicating that the
team had been forced to look for someone else.)

Ángel may have another shot. The Cleveland Indians have come calling, he said,
visiting the humble shack that he shares with his parents and seven siblings
just outside a sugarcane field.

The Indians’ offer was about a third of that put forward by the Giants, but
still a windfall for a boy from a batey, the name for the workers’ camps that
grow up around sugar cane plantations.

But while he awaits a ruling, he acknowledges worrying that he will see his
dream disappear a second time.

“God wants me to be a baseball player — that I know,” he said. What he
does not know is whether the Dominican Republic, the country he considers
himself from, agrees.

Source: AyitiJodiya - NyTimes.Com

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