Haitian Workers Facing Deportation by Dominican Neighbors

Azam Ahmed, New York Times, June 16, 2015

Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers are facing deportation from the Dominican Republic, the latest in a series of actions by the government that have cast a light on the country’s long-troubled relationship with its Haitian neighbors.

Undocumented workers in the Dominican Republic had until Wednesday to register their presence in the country, in the hope of being allowed to stay.

The government says nearly 240,000 migrant workers born outside the Dominican Republic have started the registration process. But there are an estimated 524,000 foreign-born migrant workers in the country–about 90 percent of whom are Haitian, according to a 2012 survey–leaving a huge population of migrants at risk of deportation.

Human rights groups had hoped the government would delay the registration deadline, given the difficulties faced by many in producing documents and satisfying bureaucratic requirements. But there were no indications that the authorities would stall their plan to begin ejecting workers.

“The signals are clear,” said Beneco Enecia, the director of Cedeso, a nonprofit group that works with migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent. “The Dominican government is setting up logistics, placing vehicles and personnel to start the process of repatriation.”

Haitian workers, who have crossed the border for generations to cut sugar cane, clean homes and babysit, have long experienced an uneasy coexistence with their wealthier Dominican neighbors. It is a relationship fraught with resentment, racial tension and the long shadow of the massacre of tens of thousands of Haitian laborers ordered by the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1937.

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The tensions peaked in 2013 when a constitutional court moved to strip the citizenship of children born to Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic as far back as 1929. Many of the people affected by the ruling had lived their whole lives in the Dominican Republic and knew nothing of Haiti, not even the language.

An international outcry prompted the government to soften its stance somewhat with a law the next year. It promised citizenship to children whose births were in the nation’s civil registry, and a chance at nationalization for those not formally registered.

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Andrés Navarro García, the Dominican minister of foreign relations, told reporters on a trip to Spain that a majority of those subject to deportation had already started the registration process and would not be deported.

For those who do not enter the process, Mr. Navarro said, there will be no mass roundups to deport people. Instead, the government will handle cases individually and work in conjunction with the Haitian government for an orderly transfer of citizens.

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Some advocates worry that the mechanism to identify potential deportees will be to target any dark-skinned people suspected of being of Haitian descent, whether they have papers or not.

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