December 11, 2009

The Elusive Carta de Buena Conducta

In the Dominican Republic, the “carta de buena conducta” is an official letter that indicates that you have a clean police record. These letters are necessary for most jobs in the formal labor market. Deportees have difficulty obtaining these letters, and therefore, inserting themselves in the formal labor market.

When deportees arrive in the Dominican Republic, they are split into two groups – those who are deported on criminal grounds, and those who are deported on non-criminal grounds (i.e. solely for being out of status). Those who are deported because they lacked permission to remain in the US are processed by immigration and allowed to go home. Those who are deported on criminal grounds are processed by immigration and taken to the police station.

At the police station, deportees are booked as if they were being arrested for a crime. Their picture is taken, with a number across their chest. They are fingerprinted; their personal information is recorded in a data base. And, they are only released when a family member comes for them. The family member must tell the police the address to which they will take the deportee.

For six months, deportees must report to the police station, as if they were on parole. In addition, police officers conduct field visits where they go to the deportees’ houses and ask their family members how they are doing. They also inquire with neighbors and local business owners as to the conduct of deportees. In addition, if a crime is committed in the neighborhood, the deportee is a suspect for the crime. One deportee told me he was picked up and taken to the police station, where he was kept in a holding cell with other men who were suspects for a crime. He was kept there all day, and only released in the night. He was not given any food or drink during his stay there. The reason for his incarceration was that, as a deportee, he was an automatic suspect.

Deportees in the Dominican Republic are treated as if they were criminals. After completing the six months parole, they are issued a carta de buena conducta. However, their letter says: “This person has no criminal record in the Dominican Republic, either before or after having been deported.” When potential employers see the deportation on their records, they are considerably less likely to hire them. This makes it very difficult for deportees to get formal employment. Instead, they are confined to the informal labor market – working here and there for small amounts of money, and often relying on remittances from family members in the US.

On one hand, it makes sense that Dominican employers should know if a potential employee was an axe murderer or rapist in the United States. A person convicted of child molestation in the US, for example, should not be permitted to work in a preschool in the Dominican Republic, particularly if that person has not been rehabilitated. However, these sorts of heinous crimes are the great minority among deportees.

The vast majority of deportees are deported on drug charges – possession or distribution of controlled substances in the US. Most deportees who sold drugs in the US did so because of the lack of formal labor market opportunities in the US and the lucrative possibilities in the drug market. All of the deportees I have spoken to greatly regret making the decision to sell or use drugs in the US, and have told me that they do not sell drugs in the Dominican Republic. Certainly, having the opportunity to work in the formal labor market would render them even less likely to sell drugs in the Dominican Republic. If anything, the limitations imposed by their “deportee” status showing up on their police record here make them more likely to go back to selling drugs.

Many people are also deported for misrepresentation on immigration forms. This is illegal in the US, and renders people subject to deportation. However, it is not a heinous crime, nor is it necessarily indicative of the moral character of deportees. Walter, for example, told immigration agents he had not been in the US before, when he had in fact traveled illegally to Puerto Rico as a minor. He told this lie so that he could remain with his wife and children in the United States. It was a calculated decision, based on his desire to remain with his family. His lie was discovered many years later, and he was deported. This “crime” shows up on his police record here and makes him ineligible for many employment positions. Walter is intelligent and fairly well-educated. Employers are missing out on the opportunity to hire an excellent employee by refusing him a job on the basis of his status as a deportee.

In sum, there should at least be some sort of review in the Dominican Republic that distinguishes between classes of deportees. Those who are deported for truly heinous crimes such as murder, rape and child abuse should be put into a prison release program, developed on models of programs that have been successful in other countries. Deportees convicted of heinous crimes often have spent decades in prison in the US, and will have trouble adjusting to any society.

It makes no sense to group all “criminal” deportees into one pile and offer all of them the same response: surveillance and stigmatization. It would be to the benefit of all to distinguish between deportees and help, not hinder, their reintegration into society.

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