The Puentes de Comunicación project trained and accompanied journalists in covering stories about migrants and refugees. The report "Three years of waiting for the right to identity" is one of the resulting productions.
by Desiré Santander, from Buenos Aires
Erismar, her husband Miguel and their young son Marcelo emigrated from Venezuela, hoping to forge new lives in Argentina. They immediately started paperwork to obtain an identity card for their one-year-old son, which would ultimately allow him to integrate with full rights in his new country. The wait lasted almost three years, during which Marcelo, like 7,000 other Venezuelan children, remained or remain on the sidelines.
Although the family spent a year making all of the necessary arrangements to leave Venezuela "as best prepared" as possible, the rush to flee prevailed and the child arrived in Argentina without a passport; he only had a birth certificate, which was not enough to process his identity card, according to the country's immigration authorities at the time.
On the day of the appointment at the National Direction of Migration, they took the little boy's fingerprints, but his mother was warned that the legalizationprocess of her son would be "intimated," that is to say paralyzed, since he did not have the necessary documentation to prove his identity, which in his case meant a passport or identity card from his country of origin. Erismar explained to the official assisting her that the birth certificate was her son's identity document, but he did not understand. The mother left with uncertainty and anguish, as it was a priority to guarantee her son's access to health and schooling.
When a child is born in Venezuela, his or her only identity document until the age of nine is the birth certificate, which is similar to the Argentine birth certificate, but without fingerprints, photo or a number to confirm identity.
Marcelo, Erismar's son, started the legalization process in 2018, but to date he is still without the only identity document for minors of his age
In 2020, when Erismar gave birth to her second son, she understood the procedural differences in Venezuela and Argentina. While her Venezuelan son would not be given a Venezuelan identity card until he was nine years old, her Argentine son had a birth certificate with fingerprints and an identity number before he was three months old. More importantly, he would have his National Identity Card with his photo, data and fingerprints.
Marcelo's case is not isolated, as between 8,000 and 9,000 Venezuelan migrant children and adolescents in Argentina were in the same situation at the end of 2019, according to the National Director of Migration, Florencia Carignano. Most of the cases related to minors under nine years of age who would have traveled only with a birth certificate, did not have a Venezuelan ID card or their passport had expired upon arrival in the country. In any of these cases, they could not process their identity documents in Argentina: 9,000 children were suddenly made invisible.
The route in search of identity documents in Argentina contrasts with what is happening in Venezuela.
Erismar recalls that when she and her husband decided to migrate, they wanted to do so with as much foresight as possible. In her words: "an orderly, responsible migration". Their son was born in March 2018, and they immediately started the procedure to obtain the child's passport. They were given an appointment at the Administrative Service of Identification, Migration and Foreigners in May. And so began an indefinite wait for the printed document, which was never produced because the agency made mistakes and missed deadlines.
So it was that in January 2019 they bought tickets to migrate to Argentina. The family's economic situation continued to worsen. Marcelo needed vaccinations, some of which cost up to $150 and were not being provided by the Venezuelan state. After a year of waiting for the passport, the parents decided to start their transit to Argentina and granted a power of attorney to a relative to persist in obtaining the document. Venezuela continues to deny them their right to identity.
In Venezuela, protesting can be considered a crime that, in extreme cases, can lead to imprisonment. In Argentina, it is different: there are protests every day, everywhere, for the most diverse reasons and, in general, this does not carry any major risk for people who publicly express their discontent.
This was understood by Venezuelan mothers who have migrated to Argentina. Mothers with undocumented children organized themselves, created WhatsApp groups, opened an Instagram account, shared their stories in defense identity rights and founded a movement: Intimated Venezuelan Children.
In July 2021, the DNM announced provision 1891/2021 that sought to the right to identity for 6,800 undocumented children and adolescents who entered the country only with birth certificates.
This would leave without effect the provision 520/2019, in force since January 2019 and which allowed the entry into the country of Venezuelan minors without identity card or passport. No longer could minors enter without a passport, but those who entered could legalize their situation. One right for another.
Although temporary, under the new provision, Venezuelan migrant and refugee children and adolescents could obtain the Argentine National Identity Card so that they could enjoy more rights, such as going to school, accessing the public health system or joining a private health plan.
In presenting the provision, Director of Migration Florencia Carignano stated: "With the signing of this provision we will grant provisional ID cards for almost 7,000 Venezuelan children and adolescents. And from today onwards, we will hold meetings with all agencies present to solve the documentation problems definitively, so that every child and adolescent will have access to a permanent identity card.
"When we arrived at the agency, we found a big problem. At that time there were approximately 8,000 to 9,000 Venezuelan adolescent boys and girls who had no access to something as basic as the DNI of the country they had chosen to live, study and work in," said Carignano.
Venezuelan associations in Argentina and the National Direction of Migration agreed on a provision to legalize the thousands of affected minors. The agreement's actual scope is still unknown
The identity card granted to migrant children and adolescents would be valid for two years and would allow minors to access health and education services. Families used this two-year period to process the documents required to obtain a permanent ID to certify Argentine residency.
Among the provision's benefits was the possibility to apply for a temporary document only with a birth certificate, without the need for it to be notarized or apostilled. However, only 60 days were granted for all affected persons to register in the remote identification system (RADEX) and, when it was time to renew the ID card, a Venezuelan identity card or passport would be required. In addition, with the provision's expiration, minors will not be allowed to re-enter the country with just a birth certificate, which is a legal identity document in Venezuela.
The story of Maria Isabel and her children is similar to Erismar's. Maria Isabel's two children, who were eight and nine years old in March 2019 when they arrived in Argentina, did have passports, but their birth certificate was without an apostille. That was an insurmountable obstacle when they tried to obtain the DNI of both minors and, like Marcelo, they were intimidated.
With the process stalled, the passport expired and they did not have the money necessary to resolve both the birth certificate's apostille and passport renewal at the Venezuelan embassy at that time.
"We have been here for three years now and the children have not received their ID cards," said Maria Isabel. On August 6, 2022, she received an email from the DNM assuring her that she was among the applicants who would benefit from the new provision, however, to date, neither child has a National ID card.
In April of this year Maria Isabel managed to save enough to move forward with her children's passport renewal: 150 US dollars at the time of application and 80 US dollars at the time of issuing the document; a total of 460 US dollars. After five months, she is still waiting for a response from the Venezuelan Embassy in Argentina.
Since April, they are still waiting to go to the Venezuelan embassy to renew their visa, the costs of which include 300 US dollars to start the process and five months without any response, expired Venezuelan passports and no Argentine ID card.
The once rich Venezuela is in a deep economic crisis. According to the United Nations, at least 2.3 million people have left the country. Neighboring Colombia has already taken in more than 900,000 Venezuelans
For Carlos Trapani, general coordinator of Community Learning Centers (Cecodap), a Venezuelan non-governmental organization that is a pioneer in the promotion and defense of the rights of children and adolescents, "the right to identity is the most violated right in contexts of human mobility and has a differentiated impact on children and adolescents."
According to Trapani, the violation of identity rights among migrant and refugee children and adolescents is a multifaceted situation: "Not only does it violate the right to identity, to carry public identification documents, but it also violates other rights: to a family, to be in school, to have access to public health and education services. There is a very complex reality that revolves around the lack of identity documents".
When a child or adolescent in a migratory situation does not have an identity document, Trapani warns, the risk factors increase: trafficking, abduction, exploitation. He explains that both the country of origin and of destination are responsable in two ways: "one, the protection that the child has regardless of his or her nationality; and two, taking into account the social, legal and institutional context that prevails in Venezuela and makes it difficult for families to obtain these documents".
Regarding Venezuela's responsibility, Trapani warns that, regardless of the country where a child or adolescent is located, the Venezuelan government must guarantee procedures for citizens obtaining identity documents.
Children and adolescents in migrant families are more vulnerable than are adults in at least three ways: "the combination of factors of age, migratory status and document status makes a particular protection necessary," says a report of the campaign "For a childhood without borders" by the Corporación Colectivos sin Fronteras and the Coordinadora Nacional de Inmigrantes de Chile (National Coordinating Committee of Immigrants of Chile).
Thus, being a minor and a migrant merits double protection. The first is established in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the second in the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Both instruments connect and cover childhood and migration and, ultimately, optimize rights guarantees.
To this end, it is necessary to "generate a protection framework in which being a child takes precedence over the fact of being a migrant," according to the report. In this sense, Trapani proposes that countries adopt cross-border protocols that guarantee protection: "These protocols must be created with the double focus: being a child and being a migrant, but having as a priority the best interests of the child".
"Taking this reality into account, the state facilitates mechanisms and procedures, adapts the legislation to guarantee naturalization and the greatest number of rights for the longest time possible," the human rights defender added.
Venezuelan migration is forced and reflects the country's precariousness that leads people to consider fleeing as a means to survival. "Not having identity documents does not stop families from migrating, but only makes migration more insecure," said Trapani.
This article is a guest post written by Desiré Santander and was first published in Spanish at Infobae. Santander is a member of Infobae’s data unit and participated in DW Akademie’s project Puentes de Comunicación III together with Escuela Cocuyo and El Faro. The project was supported by the German Federal Foreign Office and aimedat enabling journalists in Latin America to conduct investigative research using data and innovative tools while avoiding common stigmatization of migrants.