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Dominican Republic Temporarily Halts Deportation of Haitians
International pressure leads officials to pause their plans to expel both Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent.
Haitian mother Beltha Desir, 30, holds her child at a school in Fond Parisien on July 3, 2015.
A Haitian mother holds her child at a school in Fond Parisien on July 3 after being deported from the Dominican Republic in June. A registration program for undocumented migrants ended in the Dominican Republic on June 17, forcing more than 17,000 people across the border into Haiti.
By Teresa Welsh July 10, 2015 | 5:26 p.m. EDT + More
International backlash appears to have temporarily halted a plan by the Dominican Republic to expel Haitian immigrants from the country, but human rights advocates say it is essential that attention remain on the issue in order reduce the likelihood deportations will take place. The deportation plan is tied to long-held tensions over race and immigration between the two nations that share a single Caribbean island.
"This level of attention is obviously not going to be indefinite," says Celso Perez, a fellow at Human Rights Watch. "Our first concern is what happens when people are no longer paying the same kind of attention to the issue."
The Dominican government wants to deport both Haitian migrants who traveled to the neighboring country to work, as well as Dominicans of Haitian descent who were born in and have been in the country for years but don't have permanent legal residential status – a hot-button issue in other countries, including the United States. There are an estimated 450,000 Haitian migrants and tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic, but a constitutional change and court rulings have endangered their status.
Andre Joseph, 53, who says he was born in the Dominican Republic and lived there until being deported the day before, sits inside a school classroom where residents have allowed him and other deportees to sleep in the village of Fonbaya, Haiti, Thursday, June 18, 2015. Thousands of people began preparing Thursday for deportation from the Dominican Republic after failing to obtain legal residency as part of a government program to crack down on migrants, most of them from neighboring Haiti or of Haitian descent.
Haitians Booted From Dominican Republic Uncertain of Future
Until 2010, most people born in the Dominican Republic were guaranteed citizenship, much like the birthright laws in the U.S. But a 2013 court case removed that provision from the Dominican constitution, and also applied retroactively to anyone born there after 1929 – a move that is in violation of international laws.
Facing international pressure, Dominican President Danilo Medina issued an executive order in 2013 to allow Dominicans without legal residency to apply for legal status through an amnesty program. But the implementation of that program, known as "regularization," has been disorganized, and requirements have proven onerous for a population that is largely poor and uneducated.
Under the amnesty program, migrants were required to register with the government by June 17 of this year or face deportation. Only 290,000 of the estimated 450,000 people eligible filed the appropriate paperwork with the government, but international attention has prevented mass deportation so far.
Kathleen Newland, a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, says some people have been forced to leave the country, while others have chosen to leave proactively.
Many of those eligible for regularization did not have the documents required in order to apply, Perez says. Haitians whose children were born in the Dominican Republic need to present their own official documents in order to get ones for their children; if the parents are undocumented, the children cannot obtain documents either.
Perez says the Dominican government also failed to properly explain how the amnesty program would work. Some of those living in rural areas or who are uneducated were not aware they were facing deportation. "Some of those who have been deported have said they were basically awakened in the middle of the night and told to get out when they really had not had a chance to register," Newland confirms. "So the first thing one would like to see is a slowing down of the whole process to really give people time to go through the registration process and some effort to not make it impossible for people to do that."
She says fewer than 2 percent of Haitian immigrants have been granted legal status by the government as a part of the regularization.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola and have had a contentious history. In 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered the massacre of tens of thousands of people based upon their skin color and their ability to pronounce the Spanish word for parsley – "perejil." The official language of the Dominican Republic is Spanish, while that of Haiti is French; those who were unable to say the word with the proper Spanish accent were assumed to be Haitian, and killed.
The Associated Press
Authors Diaz, Danticat Decry Deportations in Dominican Republic
Both Haiti and the Dominican Republic were home to generations of Africans who had been enslaved by the island's European settlers, and Laurel Fletcher, a human rights professor at University of California at Berkeley, says racism is rampant in the Spanish-speaking country.
"In the case of the Dominican Republic, the racial dimensions and the history of racism and anti-Haitian sentiment I think are something that gives us a particular cast in character," Fletcher says. "Certainly the way in which anti-Haitian sentiment has played politically … that's something that I think is particular to the Dominican Republic. There has been this group of very conservative politicians that have exploited and made an issue out of Haitians and that kind of panic of 'our country's going to be overrun by Haitians unless we crack down.'"
Fletcher sued the Dominican government more than 10 years ago in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to recognize children born in the country as Dominican citizens, regardless of ethnicity. Many people of Haitian descent who have been denied citizenship by the Dominican Republic also lack Haitian citizenship because they were not born in Haiti, leaving them "stateless," a situation that is contrary to international laws. International conventions on statelessness require countries to grant citizenship to children born in their territory, as well as those seeking "to prevent statelessness later in life by prohibiting the withdrawal of citizenship from States' nationals – either through loss, renunciation, or deprivation of nationality – when doing so would result in statelessness."
The court ordered the Dominican Republic to issue birth certificates to all children born there, but the government has barely complied, Fletcher says.
An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 children of Haitian descent are born each year in the Dominican Republic, according to the State Department.
In direct response to an oped by Fletcher and a colleague in the New York Times, the Dominican government this week said it was "absolutely false" to call the situation a human rights crisis and that the government was recognizing the rights of foreign citizens and regulating immigration status. The government denies that the regularization policies are motivated by race or an attempt to purge immigrants.
Fletcher says it is the U.S.' responsibility to maintain pressure on the Dominican Republic to comply with international human rights law, but that it is also in the U.S.'s best interests to do so. The deportations threaten a still-fragile Haiti, which still has high poverty rates five years after the devastating earthquake that killed an estimated 222,750 people.
"What's starting to happen is you're having people who are returning to Haiti or people who don't have ties to Haiti but feel like 'I better get out now before I actually get expelled from my country and I don't have time to gather my belongings and family and leave together,' and that's not good for Haiti," Fletcher says. "And destabilizing Haiti is not good for the United States."