By Emma Fawcett*
The government of the Dominican Republic has not yet begun massive forced repatriations of the potentially 200,000 Haitians who have failed to comply with its “National Plan for Regularization of Foreigners,” but its plans to conduct sweeps for undocumented persons and put them in processing centers are already causing fear. Last Wednesday evening marked the ominous deadline for those without legal residency to register in a process that began following a 2013 Tribunal Constitucional decision that Haitian descendants born in the Dominican Republic after 1929 did not qualify for Dominican citizenship. After a barrage of international outrage at the prospect that hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent risked statelessness, President Danilo Medina and the Dominican Congress took action to create a path to citizenship for some and offer regularized – but temporary – residency to those who can prove they lived in the country before October 2011.
The Regularization Plan affects an estimated 524,000 people, including some 460,000 that a survey by the Ministry of the Economy in 2012 found were in the country without residency permits. An estimated 250,000 people have started registration processes, but local media report that only 10,000 of them have all the necessary documents – including Haitian passports that are slow and expensive to get – and only 300 have received their temporary residency permits. Applicants cannot be deported while their cases are evaluated, but there have already been reported instances of indiscriminate deportations. Long lines outside the Ministry of Interior – with waits of up to 15 days – have frustrated many who tried to register. Those who have already registered have been asked to carry their documentation at all times, to avoid difficulties with Police and Army patrols targeting Haitian neighborhoods armed with clubs and Tasers. Amnesty International and other observers have called on the government to respect human rights, but there is widespread fear that, once international attention diminishes, many thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent will be forcibly deported. The fear is already driving hundreds of voluntary departures.
Dominicans have relied on Haitian migrant labor for generations, and many of those without documentation were born in the Dominican Republic, speak only Spanish, and have no ties to Haiti. Pogroms against Haitian descendants are not unprecedented either – most infamously when Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1937 ordered attacks on Haitians living along the border, killing an estimated 35,000 in less than a week. Dominican officials appear committed to preventing such gross violations now and claim that their immigration policies are more forgiving than elsewhere in the region. While Haitian President Michel Martelly has said that the country “is ready to receive with dignity our sons, our brothers,” his government’s obvious inability to help the repatriates raises the prospect that a humanitarian crisis will result. In a nationwide address the night that the Regularization Plan registration expired, Dominican President Medina spoke of his intention to run for a second term, not about the wrenching experience some half-million persons in the country were about to face. Taking on Haitian immigration is a popular way for Dominican politicians to pander to the electorate, drumming up support from the working class and reminding voters that the country once suffered under Haitian rule, from 1822-1844. With the world watching, a Trujillo-era ethnic cleansing seems unlikely, but the fate of hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent hangs in the balance.
June 22, 2015
*Emma Fawcett is a PhD candidate in International Relations at American University. Her doctoral thesis focuses on the political economy of tourism and development in four Caribbean case studies: Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and the Mexican Caribbean.