By Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Public Witness
Statelessness. Ecumenical cooperation. Regularization. These are words that describe the work of the Office of Public Witness. Words that make many eyes glaze over. But these words of jargon are closely linked to the actual lives of our sisters and brothers in the Dominican Republic. For them, these words are critical—not abstract, theoretical, or of little interest.
This past December, Jeff Boshart, manager of the Global Food Crisis Fund and the Emerging Global Mission Fund, and I traveled to Haiti and the Dominican Republic to visit the Brethren churches there. In 2013, there was a change of legislation declaring that all persons of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic after 1929 were rendered not Dominican. Since they were not born in Haiti, they were also deemed not Haitian. People caught between these parameters became stateless—a legal issue of citizenship but also an enormous risk of exploitation and trafficking. Additionally, those who immigrated to the Dominican Republic before 2007 needed to complete an expensive, difficult regularization process.
As Jeff and I met with people in this situation, it became increasingly apparent that the system wasn’t working. Many could not begin the process of regularization because of the great distances from their homes to the appropriate offices. Others had begun the process, but had spent all their money through repeated trips with little or no progress. In this situation we, and the Brethren in the D.R., engaged in ecumenical cooperation and coordinated between US denominational programs to offer help.
As you read this now, much has changed. In late spring, Global Mission and Service began assisting Dominican pastors to support Brethren in the registration process, and Church of the Brethren congregations in Miami, Fla., sought ways to provide support. Also, in Washington, D.C., the Office of Public Witness communicated concerns and shared in strategic collaboration with organizations like Church World Service. Recently, with the threat of mass deportations from the D.R., that may begin as soon as August 1, the government of Haiti has said it is unprepared to handle a great influx of people. Nonetheless, we continue to advocate for all who are stateless.
The issues we see in the Dominican Republic and in other places are not simply for a policy wonk or theologian—they are issues of life, livelihood, and family. I know many of us feel overwhelmed by the great needs we see, the seemingly endless conflicts, and continued injustices. However, we must endure in faithfully bearing witness to Jesus who gives life and a sense of belonging to all.
Grants of $16,000 have already been allocated by Global Mission and Service and the Emergency Disaster Fund (with plans to give more) to support Dominican Haitian Brethren in the regularization process. Learn more about Church of the Brethren international partnerships at www.brethren.org/partners .