November 25, 2009

133 Dominicans deported on criminal grounds from the US at the Central Booking Office in Santo Domingo

On Monday, I called René Vicioso, a Dominican who was deported five years ago, and who has created an organization called “Bienvenido Seas” (Welcome!) that assists deportees in reincorporating into Dominican society. René has worked closely with several other academics – some of whom I know, and was quite enthusiastic about meeting with me. We agreed to meet for lunch on Tuesday in the Zona Colonial of Santo Domingo.

When we met, René immediately began to recount to me the problems Dominican deportees face. Primary among them is the fact that Dominicans who are deported to the US on criminal grounds are often unable to find employment because of the stigma against deportees. In the Dominican Republic, you need to show your criminal record to employers in order to secure employment. Deportees are not issued this document for the first six months they are in the country. And, once they complete their six months, their record indicates that they have been deported. This is only for people who have been deported on criminal grounds. Nevertheless, as René pointed out, there is no limitation on the criminal record – the deportation shows up even years after the person has been deported. Thus, deportees face immense difficulty securing employment.

Unable to find a stable job, some deportees are creative and resourceful and find ways to make a living by working odd jobs or by providing services to tourists in the Colonial City. Others turn to drugs for solace, and others turn to crime. Still others create their own businesses or go to university to further their studies. René mentioned a lawyer and a doctor he knows that are deportees. He also mentioned a deportee who owns his own call center. There is a lot of variety, then, in deportees’ levels of success in the Dominican Republic, and it will be my task to figure out how some deportees are able to be successful, and what obstacles other deportees face.

During the course of the afternoon, René found out that a planeload of deportees was scheduled to arrive today, and offered to take me to the Central Booking Office, where people deported on criminal grounds must be processed. When deportees arrive in the Dominican Republic, they are first processed by immigration authorities. Those who were deported because of their immigration status are released at the airport. Those who were deported on criminal grounds are taken to a police station to register with the authorities.

Each deportee is fingerprinted; a photo is taken; and all of their personal data is recorded. Once this process is finished, deportees are released to a family member, who must bring a photocopy of his or her national ID card – the cedula. Deportees are only released to family members, and are not permitted to leave the police station until a family member comes for them. The official in charge ensured me that they are not being held captive, but that it is for their own safety.

Once deportees are released into society, they must report once a month to the police office in charge of deportees. At each visit, they meet with a psychologist and let them know what they have been up to. In addition, the police department makes field visits to deportees’ houses to find out how things are going. On those visits, they talk with the deportees, their family members, and the neighbors to find out how the deportee is doing. If they find that he is using drugs, they recommend a rehabilitation center. Overall, these visits are intended to ensure that deportees do not re-offend in the Dominican Republic.

Remarkably, Dominican deportees have a very low rate of recidivism. Of the 14,858 persons deported to the Dominican Republic since 2001, only 122 have been convicted of crimes in the D.R. Despite this, there is widespread belief in the D.R. that deportees are responsible for the rise in crime in the D.R. The police chief assured me that this is untrue, that, thanks to their program, deportees rarely re-offend.

At the booking office on Tuesday afternoon, the 132 men and 1 woman had been bused from ICE detention centers in the US to Louisiana, where they boarded a plane, handcuffed, that took them to the Santo Domingo Airport. After being processed through immigration, they had been bused to the Central Booking Office. They were mostly young men, although there were a couple of elderly men, and one woman. Nearly all were speaking Spanish to each other, however, I did hear one say to another in English “Don’t worry, dog, they are going to let you out of here.” The other guy was concerned because the person who had come for him was not a direct family member.

I left the police station around 8:30pm, as it was getting late, and I had to go all the way back across town. Outside the station were many concerned family members, waiting to pick up their brothers, sons, fathers, and other family members who had been deported from the US.

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