The New York Times
October 20, 2000

Fees for Dominican Passports Reduced

Accusing a predecessor of raising fees for passports and other consular services without permission, the head of the Dominican Consulate in New York announced a series of reductions yesterday in service costs paid by Dominicans, the city's poorest immigrant group.

The announcement by Luis Eludis Perez, the consul general, fulfilled a campaign promise made by the man who appointed Mr. Perez to his post, Hipolito Mejia, the Dominican Republic's new president. Long-running complaints about excessive fees at the New York consulate like $150 to return a body to the country for burial became a major issue in the country's presidential campaign last spring.

Mr. Perez made the announcement at the first of what he promised would be a series of community meetings sponsored by the consulate at which Dominicans would be free to express their concerns. The meeting, held in a packed gymnasium at Public School 42 in Washington Heights, drew more than 200 people and produced a list of frustrations with the consulate and with city government from members of one of the city's largest immigrant groups.

Along with chastising the consulate's fees, dozens of speakers demanded the construction of a second neighborhood high school, more after-school programs for youths and a halt to the planned construction of a prison on 181st Street.

Many Dominicans said they had seen many promises go unfulfilled in the past but were pleased with Mr. Perez so far.

"It's very positive," said Milciades Soto, who attended the meeting with his two young daughters. "It's a good start."

Mr. Perez said that as of Jan. 1, the cost of obtaining a new six-year passport would drop from $200 one of the highest rates in the world to $96.50.

Other passport fees will also be reduced, he said. Fees for other consular services that had cost $190 or $178 would be reduced to $105, he said.

Hundreds of immigrants who paid the consulate's high service fees have long suspected that the costs were improper and abusive. The newly elected Dominican government has started an investigation.

Bienvenido Perez, the consul general from 1996 to 1999, has denied any wrongdoing.

At yesterday's meeting, people called for unity in among Dominican- Americans. They said infighting among Dominicans, who number 600,000 in the city, had contributed to a weakening of their political power.

"I believe that if we keep holding these assemblies, and if the organizations cooperate, we can achieve something," said Sarita Sanchez, 66, founder of the Dominican Civic and Cultural Center, a nonprofit group that provides after-school programs. "We need more unity."