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April 2016, Volume 22, Number 2

Canada, Mexico, Haiti-DR

Mexico. Mexico received $24.4 billion in remittances in 2014. The Mexican peso has been losing value, reaching $1 to 19 pesos in spring 2016 as a result of falling oil prices and slowing global economy. The Mexican government gets a third of its revenue from oil sales. Daily production is about two million barrels a day, and half is exported. The Mexican economy grew by 2.5 percent in 2015.

Mexico's Plan Frontera Sur aims to prevent Central Americans from transiting the country en route to the US. Some 170,000 Central Americans transiting Mexico were arrested in 2015, double the 78,000 arrested in 2013. More frequent police checks of north-bound buses and trains have encouraged more Central Americans to use smugglers to get through Mexico.

Pope Francis visited Mexico in mid-February 2016 and held a Mass with 200,000 people near the Mexico-US border in Ciudad Juarez, saying "No more death! No more exploitation." From the northern border to Chiapas in the south, Francis expressed solidarity with migrants seeking a better life. He said: "The human tragedy that is forced migration is a global phenomenon today."

Mexico is plagued by poverty, inequality, and corruption that often undermines the rule of law. Only 12 percent of crimes are reported to police, and 98 percent of murders are unsolved. One response has been lynchings, especially in smaller towns and cities where the presence of strangers can fuel rumors of kidnapping children and other crimes that are rarely solved. In some areas, self-defense groups have emerged to take on policing duties, including some that later become bandits and prey on the people that they originally protected.

Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico may be in an economic death spiral, unable to pay $72 billion in public debt that was incurred to meet operating expenses. Puerto Rico's population of 3.5 million was shrinking by one percent a year, but the loss of residents rose to almost two percent in 2015. Tax-paying residents are most likely to move to the mainland US.

Congress in 1984 prevented Puerto Rico and Washington DC, then the two most indebted governments in the US, from restructuring their debts using Chapter 9 of the bankruptcy code, but gave no reason for doing so. The Puerto Rican Government Development Bank, which guaranteed loans for many government agencies and private firms, appears poised to default on payments, which could cause a chain reaction of other defaults.

Wal-Mart, with 55 stores and 15,000 employees the largest private employer in Puerto Rico, sued the Puerto Rican government for raising its tax rate.

The House Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs considered legislation that would allow Puerto Rican public entities to declare bankruptcy and restructure under Chapter 9. However, some experts urged Congress to instead create an independent control board to both reduce debt and plan for economic recovery.

Latin America. Honduras has the world's highest murder rate, 91 per 100,000 residents in 2012 (the US rate was five per 100,000). The murder rate has since fallen, in part because of US aid to train specialized police who are paid $650 a month rather than the usual $500 a month.

President Obama visited Argentina in March 2016, embracing newly elected President Mauricio Macri, who made market-oriented changes after taking office in December 2015.

Macri, facing the largest budget deficit since 1982, reduced electricity subsidies. The previous Kirchner government had subsidized electricity, gas and water prices, especially in Buenos Aires, but energy subsidies by 2015 consumed 12 percent of federal spending. As a result, consumption rose but utilities unable to raise prices did not invest in more capacity, leading to blackouts. Portenos paid about a tenth as much for electricity as residents of Brazil and Uruguay. Reducing the subsidies is expected to contribute to inflation of 35 percent in 2016.

Argentina was a major migrant destination, especially for Italians and Spaniards, between 1870 and 1970, receiving 5.3 million or 40 percent of the total 13.2 million immigrants who arrived in Latin America. More recently, educated and skilled Argentineans have left, especially during the 1970s and 1980s, but migrants from Bolivia (one third of the total) and Paraguay (a third) are moving to Argentina.

Haiti-Dominican Republic. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share Hispaniola, an island the size of Austria or South Carolina. Each country has about 10 million residents, but per capita incomes are up to 10 times higher in the Dominican Republic than in Haiti, with the result that five to 10 percent of persons born in Haiti are in the Dominican Republic.

The roots of Haiti-Dominican Republic migration lie in the Dominican Republic sugar industry, which recruited Haitian workers to cut cane for much of the 20th century. What began as the seasonal migration of solo men evolved into families living in bateys on sugar plantations and children born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents.

Between 1929 and 2007, the Dominican Republic allowed persons born to Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic to be registered as Haitians, but Supreme Court decision TC 168/13 in 2013 ruled that children born to unauthorized Haitians in the Dominican Republic were "in transit," and their children were not Dominican.

The Dominican Republic government responded with the PNRE regularization program for the estimated 500,000 unauthorized Haitians born in Haiti, and Category A (registered as Dominicans) and B (born in the Dominican Republic but never registered as Dominicans) (re)nationalization programs for persons born in the Dominican Republic to unauthorized Haitian parents. In 2014-15, 290,000 unauthorized Haitians applied for PNRE regularization, 55,000 born in the Dominican Republic were re-registered as Dominicans, and 8,750 born in the Dominican Republic but never registered in the Dominican Republic sought permanent residence in the Dominican Republic.

Decision TC 168/13 and especially Category B were widely condemned for creating "stateless" persons. There is widespread agreement that PNRE and Category B had onerous requirements that limited participation, particularly because the Haitian government proved unable to issue the documents that the Dominican Republic government required to regularize and (re)nationalize.

The Dominican Republic government relaxed document requirements over time, but it is not known how many Haitians did not apply because they lacked documentation and were discouraged from applying.

There are major challenges, including: (1) renewing one-year work-and-residence PNRE permits due to expire in August-September 2016 that have not yet been delivered to applicants; (2) dealing with the 70,000-80,000 Category B or born-in-the-Dominican Republic people whose births in the Dominican Republic were never registered; and (3) registering the babies who continue to be born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents who do not have the Haitian documents needed to register their children as Haitian.

Dominican Republic public opinion strongly opposes the regularization of Haitians, so there are not likely to be any pro-Haitian moves before elections in May 2016. The most likely Dominican Republic migration policy is: (1) renewal of current one-year work permits, perhaps without changing the expiration date; (2) another window for Category B persons to apply; and (3) pressure on Haiti to deliver the documents for which Haitians in the Dominican Republic paid but have not received, especially Haitian passports.

There are many recommendations for policy changes, including having government staff travel to employers and NGOs to take applications rather than requiring Haitians to travel from remote bateys to the same police offices that handle deportations. Employers and NGOs with Creole-speaking staff could input applicant data to minimize entry errors.

Other challenges include completing government processes that took far longer than expected so that renationalized Dominicans can get driver's licenses, enroll in high school, and access government services, bringing newly regularized Haitians into the Dominican social security system, and perhaps having the Dominican Republic issue a card akin to the US-government-issued Border Crossing Cards for Mexicans so that regularized Haitians have a government-issued ID that allows them to lawfully travel in-and-out of the Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic sugar industry is shrinking and mechanizing, and today banana farms employ 1.5 times more Haitians than sugar plantations. Indeed, most estimates suggest that two-thirds or more of Haitians in the Dominican Republic are employed in nonfarm jobs, primarily construction and tourism-related services. Sugar was largely responsible for the migration of Haitians to the Dominican Republic, but continued Haitian migration and employment is largely a non-sugar issue that is likely to become more important as the demand for Haitian labor in the nonfarm sectors rises.

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