It may look like paradise, but the cheap vacation getaway that is the Dominican Republic has become a prison for a Canadian family.
For eight years, 12-year-old Widlene Alexis Earle’s family has been trying to bring her from the Dominican Republic to Canada.
Her adoptive father Vaden Earle is from Hamilton but has lived in the Dominican Republic. He first met Widlene at a garbage dump where he was doing humanitarian work with Canadian students. Earle got to know her and her mother as he continued to work in Haiti. When Widlene was four, her mother died, and Earle decided to take the girl in.
Today, Widlene has just finished Grade 6. She’s a budding young soccer player, and her dad says she can’t wait to get on a team in Canada.
Recent developments in the Dominican are bringing her case to a crisis point. Immigration laws have changed so that Haitians are now being deported en masse even if they were born in the Dominican Republic, like Widlene was.
“One stroke of the pen and Dominican Republic created 750,000 stateless individuals,” says Earle.
He and his wife, who live just outside Puerto Plata, are now forced to hide their daughter during deportation sweeps.
“In the last five days, we have had to hide Widlene twice,” says Earle. “Imagine five pickup trucks, with the boxes completely filled with 20 or 25 heavily-armed military in full fatigues. Behind them are buses with cages on them, where people can be thrown in and taken away. It’s terrifying, absolutely terrifying.”
If it wasn’t for a natural disaster, Widlene would have spent the last seven years in Canada. In 2009, the family began the formal adoption process with Haitian officials. In December that year, they received adoption approval from Ontario. Widlene was set to start her new life in January — a plan that that was derailed when a massive earthquake struck Haiti, destroying Port au Prince.
“We didn’t just lose our paperwork, our proof of adoption and her ID,” says Earle. “Our case workers were all killed in the quake. The whole Child and Family Services department was wiped out.”
In 2010, Earle and his wife re-started the adoption process. They suffered another setback when Haiti changed the rules on international adoptions.
Today, the family is urgently trying to resolve Widlene’s status. Online, the Bring Widlene Home campaign has kicked into high gear, with thousands of Canadians bombarding MPs and even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with emails begging for emergency paperwork to grant Widlene a temporary resident’s permit.
Earle says supporters have sent as many as 10,000 emails in a single day. Concerned Canadians are also showing up to Trudeau’s public events and asking him to address Widlene’s case. That pressure has elicited a promise: Trudeau says his office is looking into the case.
When CityNews asked for an update on the case, the department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship declined to comment, citing privacy concerns.
In recent weeks, Canada has seen a spike in asylum claims from people of Haitian descent fleeing the U.S. for Quebec. If Donald Trump’s administration cancels a post-earthquake program that grants Haitians temporary protected status in the U.S., as many as 60,000 Haitians could be deported.
In the past two weeks, some of those people have fled to Canada. Quebec has seen asylum claims triple to 150 applications a day.
That news worries Earle, who’s concerned those claimants will bump Widlene’s application for a temporary residency permit to the bottom of the list.
“We have to leave here. There’s no point in staying,” says Earle. “It’s not a matter of if she’s going to be picked up by immigration officials. It’s when.”
For more information on the Bring Widlene Home campaign, click here.