January 21, 2010

Waiting for deportees in Santo Domingo

I arrived at the Departamento de Deportados at noon on Wednesday, January 20, 2010. I had received permission from the Director of Migration to observe the arrival of deportees from the United States to the Dominican Republic. I accompanied the staff of the Department of Migration (DGM) to the airport to greet the deportees and observed their processing in Santo Domingo.

Every two weeks, a planeload of deportees arrives in the Dominican Republic from the US. The deportees are people who have been detained in the United States immigrant detention system because of some violation of provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act of (INA). This includes violation of the civil provisions of the INA such as crossing the border without inspection or overstaying a visa and criminal provisions of the INA such as immigration fraud or smuggling.

When I arrived at the Deportee Department, the receptionist told me that the flight, which was scheduled to arrive at 1:15pm, had been delayed. She still did not know when it would arrive, but had a list of the 137 deportees who were scheduled to arrive that day.

I took a seat in the small waiting room, and waited to find out when the flight would arrive. Soon after I took my seat, a man with a lavender cotton shirt came in and asked the receptionist if a deportee will arrive that evening. He gave her the name. She looked it up and said, yes, the deportee is scheduled to arrive, and has been convicted of robbery. The man asked if the deportation will be recorded as criminal in the Dominican Republic. The receptionist told him that it will. He asked if there is any way to avoid that, and she told him there is not.

In the Dominican Republic, officials distinguish between people who are deported on criminal grounds and those who are deported on immigration grounds. Dominicans who are caught crossing the border illegally in the United States or who have overstayed their visas in the U.S. and are deported on those ground are considered non-criminal deportees in the Dominican Republic. In contrast, Dominicans who are deported after being convicted of a crime in the United States are considered criminal deportees and are subject to further surveillance in the Dominican Republic. The reason for their deportation is recorded, and their deportation shows up on their criminal and credit reports in the Dominican Republic.

As I sat in the waiting room, people filed in and out, inquiring about deportees who were scheduled to arrive. Each person arrived with a name, and the receptionist looked it up. She told them if the person was being deported on criminal or non-criminal grounds, as those who are deported on criminal grounds are taken to the booking office in Villa Juana, whereas those deported on non-criminal grounds are released from the immigration office.

The phone rings several times. Each time it is a person wanting to know if and when a relative or friend will be arriving on the flight. The receptionist has to repeat over and over again that she does not know for sure when the flight will arrive.

The man in the lavender shirt came back in two more times to check on when the flight will come, and each time he asked if there was any way to avoid the criminal deportation remaining on the record. Each time he got the same answer. On one of the visits, he said he was the deportee’s lawyer.

At 1:30, the receptionist began to call the US embassy to get information about the flight. People kept calling and coming in, and she still didn’t have a confirmed time. She also was not looking forward to working late. The following day was a holiday, and everyone was anxious to get home. She kept calling, and finally, at 2pm, she got an answer, the flight will arrive at 3:45 – two and a half hours late.

At 2:20pm, the receptionist got another call. They have just learned that the plane will not carry 137 people, but 30 people. They got a new list of arrivals. Apparently, the bad weather conditions prevented the flights from the northern United States from arriving in Texas, and the plane from Texas had to leave without them.

The new information seemed to get around quickly, as some of the same people came back in to ask again. The man in the lavender shirt is among them, and his client still will be coming. Others found out that their relative is no longer on the list and that they will have to call to find out if they will come the following week.

Finally, it is 3pm, and Santiago – a military officer – let me know it is time to leave to go to the airport. Soldiers, at the service of the DGM, are responsible for security. Santiago seems to be in charge of most things during the process.

I get in a car driven by a solider with Santiago and two officials from the DGM. When we arrive at the airport, it was 4pm, and the plane had arrived. The deportee plane arrives in the cargo area of the airport. Their plane landed next to a UPS plane and a DHL plane.

The deportee’s plane was a large white, unmarked plane. There were two ICE officials on the plane who spoke Spanish and communicated with the Dominican officials.

Santiago boarded the plane and explained to the deportees the process which they were about to go through. He called them each by name and they got off the plane one by one onto a DGM bus that was waiting for them. The bus had the protection of several soldiers, in addition to bars on the windows and bars protecting the driver from the passengers.

The passengers included two women and 28 men. Eleven of the passengers had been deported for immigration reasons and the rest on criminal grounds. We drove back to DGM, arriving at 5pm. Once there, the deportees were escorted upstairs, and they were given their possessions – a change of clothes for some, books, photos, make-up, deodorant, and shoelaces, among other things.

Santiago asked all of the deportees to sit down, and separated them into two groups – those deported for being undocumented and those deported on criminal grounds. The non-criminal deportees were processed first. They went, one by one, to be fingerprinted and have their names and information recorded both by the DGM and the Departamento Nacional de Investigaciones (DNI). As there were only eleven, that took about 40 minutes. Then, it was time to process those who were deported on criminal grounds. They went through the same process, but had to be taken from there to Villa Juana, to be booked again by the police and the drug control division.

At 6:15, those deported on criminal grounds were sent to Villa Juana. And, the family members of the others came for them to sign them out. At 6:35pm, the last deportees were being signed out and I left.

It was a very long day for the deportees. They began to board the aircraft at 10:00am, and arrived in Santo Domingo at 4pm. The undocumented deportees were released at 6:30pm. But, those deported on criminal grounds had to go through yet another process, and some would not be released for another few more hours. They were fortunate, however, that there were only 30 deportees, as more would have taken longer.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Tanya,

    I have just begun looking at your blog, and it's really fascinating. I saw you present your paper at ASA, and I knew this research adventure was upcoming, but this blog is really something! I look forward to reading more.

    Quick question: Have you come across female deportees? If so, how do their stories vary from those of the men you've interviewed? Any thoughts on gender in this process? Of course, everyone is affected by the deportation, but even though the number of women in immigration jails continues to grow, it's still striking how men are concentrated in the imm prisons and among the deportees.

    Also: Can you explain why the man in the photo above is shielding his face--is it because of the photographer (you?), or is there a general sense of shame at being deported on criminal grounds?

    Good luck with those writing deadlines! I don't know how you do it, but you make it all seem manageable!