A Discussion with Miguel A. Cruz Jiménez, Mayor of Dajabón Municipality, Dajabón, Dominican Republic
June 5, 2017
Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in June 2017 undergraduate student Mary Breen interviewed Miguel A. Cruz Jiménez, mayor of Dajabón Minicipality in Dajabón, Dominican Republic. Throughout the interview, Cruz describes the challenges to the legal immigration process and the ways in which local governments on both sides of the border work to solve problems.
You began your work as mayor in August 2016, correct?
Yes, August of last year.
Before your position as mayor, where were you working?
I was governor of the province two times and the executive director of Law 28-01 on the coordination of special border areas. It is a law that gives incentives to businesspeople to dedicate investment in the border. In the border, there are not all of the communities that exist in Santiago or Santo Domingo with great restaurants, hotels, roads, highways, electrification, so this law provides some incentives for investment in the border.
From your experience, what have been the greatest challenges for the region and for your work?
We live at the border, which is a challenge every day. The fact that they have a country with more economic limitations than we have is a great challenge. The challenge is that they want to come to this side, but there are rules that need to be obeyed. Sometimes we do not have this regularization or this way to come legally. I think a large part of the solution of their country is the matter of getting identification. This brings many obstacles for Haitians for regularization in this country—obtaining a visa, any type of regularization, birth certificate. This is a challenge that we live every day.
Have you seen this situation with immigration change drastically over the years? Has it improved?
It has improved greatly. It improved in the sense that a great part of the immigrants are regularized. I can speak of my own case. I had Haitians working with me in the countryside, and these Haitians had the opportunity to get their documents from Haiti and bring them here.
How have these challenges been met? Mostly with government laws, or are there other organizations with which you work?
There are different institutions. Take the case of Border Solidarity [Solidaridad Fronteriza] that helped greatly with the process, also Centro Puente, an organization which is more or less the sister of Solidaridad Fronteriza, and the institution of the state. There is also the International Organization for Migration that today generates important papers for regularization.
What is the role of education in the context of these immigration issues?
It is logical. Education cannot be denied to anyone, including Haitians here even without papers. In public schools of Dajabón, you can find everyone including Haitians, and the majority of Haitians do not have papers. In the eighth grade, if you do not have identification, there begins a problem. Any person of any nationality without papers then needs them for school. There is also the case of health: 43 percent of the women who give birth here in the hospital in Dajabón are Haitian. The state is in charge of the budget for health and for education.
What would you like to see change in the future? Do you hope for more regularization, a change on the other side of the border, or something else?
I want development on both sides. The international potential of France, Canada, the United States, and others to help could have a huge impact, since historically we have had more theoretical help than real help. The vast majority of the help Haiti receives comes from the Dominican Republic. I had the privilege to be part of the state establishment but also to be a farmer and to live at the base where racism does not exist for me. The Haitians that worked with me are my friends. They have two children, and I was there when they were baptized by water. I am friends with them just like I am friends with other Dominicans, under the same conditions. When I go on Saturday to the countryside, I cook for all the employees, and I see Haitians and Dominicans together. But, yes, I also think we have to see the way in which we are talking about helping Haiti in a sincere manner.
Since you spoke about the lack of racism from your own experience, do you think the majority of people share in the same thinking as you?
There is not a big problem concerning relations between both populations?
Someone who lives day-by-day knows that it does not really exist. There are isolated cases where a Dominican is killed by someone here or by a Haitian, but this is more just a part of normal coexistence when a person is in a bar and does not agree with someone else, or it is a romantic or personal matter. If you go to the countryside, you would see. We have a party; I have an activity every year with the children of my community. Thirty percent of the children that come are Haitian. I invite them directly and they all come. No one tells them to go because they are Haitian. So, I do not see it as such. There are cases just in all parts of the world, but I do not think it is such a problem.
Can you describe the relationship between the local governments along the border in Wanament, Haiti and here in Dajabón?
Now, we are constructing a space because we understand that when a problem or conflict occurs, it could be solved by local authorities. If it is an international situation, the Dominican consulate can send a diplomatic note looking for a solution to the conflict to the Haitian consulate. We, if we have a good relationship, are able to find it. Here is a document of a program of the European Union that we are establishing. We have an activity here in Dajabón and one in Haiti, and tomorrow the mayors from several border towns in Haiti and the Dominican Republic will come for a meeting. We are looking for a space where we can discuss a problem and see the possibility of looking for a solution to those problems.
Is there a success or project you have had that demonstrates the possibilities of government work?
The market is an important project, and it is an important example of what we were saying a moment ago. Seventy percent of the vendors at the market are Haitians with the license of the local government of Dajabón that permits them to sell in that market. Although it is called binational, it is really on this side. Before, we spoke about 40 percent or 50 percent, but today it is said to be 65 percent or 70 percent of those that have a license for the market are Haitians.The local governments of the Dominican Republic are limited by resources. We also have a project focused on trash dumps and another new project to have treated water in houses.
Has the market been beneficial for both countries?
Although it started as a humanitarian market, it has become a market of opportunities for both countries. There used to be one bank in Dajabón and zero in Wanament; now there are 10 in Dajabón and five in Wanament. The number of banks indicates progress, so this commercial relationship between both countries has been fruitful.
Is there something unique or different that characterizes this border?
All borders are different, but we have only one island. So, we have to live together with two races with different customs, characteristics, and cultures, but with one objective that we have to live together. Conflicts arise, but we have to be obligated to look for a solution.