Yamiche Alcindor, USA Today, August 17, 2015
As Roberto Rafael remembers it, a Dominican soldier looked him up and down 15 years ago, decided his skin was too dark for a native Dominican, loaded him into a truck and dumped him in the pouring rain into Haiti, a country where he didn’t know a soul.
Rafael, then 15, said he wandered terrified around Ouanaminthe, a Haitian border town 60 miles from his home, before a chance meeting with a friend from the Dominican Republic who happened to be visiting Haiti and who helped contact Rafael’s family. Rafael, born to Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic, eventually returned home after relatives took documents to Haiti to prove his Dominican birth, he said.
Rafael now fears he and others like him will face the same old prejudices and suffer the same fate as a recently enacted Dominican immigration law takes hold, spurring a new immigration crisis between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, neighboring countries that share the island of Hispañiola. International human rights activists say such fears are well-founded. Already, they say, dark-skinned native Dominicans and longtime residents report new, eerily similar accounts of deportations from the Caribbean nation.
The roots of the crisis began in 2013 when the country’s Supreme Court ruled that people born in the Dominican Republic between 1929 and 2010 to non-citizen parents do not qualify as Dominican citizens. The decision retroactively stripped tens of thousands of people of their nationality, effectively leaving many people stateless. People born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents bore the brunt of the ruling.
While the government created a plan to restore nationality for thousands of people who could prove they were born in the country, many people say they lacked all the documents to prove their citizenship. Another program grants legal residency to non-citizens–many of them Haitian workers–who can establish their identity and prove they arrived before October 2011. The Dominican government said it would not begin deportations until mid-August, 45 days after the June 17 application deadline. But dozens of people told USA TODAY that Dominican officials deported them soon after June 17. Many of the people deported say they believe officials targeted them for their dark skin.
Dominican officials said race won’t be considered and all residents will get due process in any deportation proceedings.
Caonabo Delgadillo, who heads the division of migration for the northern part of the Dominican Republic, said Haitians and Dominicans have long had close ties and that race is not the issue.
“We don’t have anything against blacks, because we are all black,” Delgadillo said. “There’s no problem. Every Dominican has a Haitian working in their house. I personally have two.”
Josue Fiallo, an adviser to the Dominican ministry of the presidency, told USA TODAY the Dominican Republic will not deport anyone who can prove they were born in the country and will not split up any families. He acknowledged that in the past Dominican officials deported some people without due process, but said a “new generation” of Dominican authorities would individually assess each case. Fiallo denied any deportations tied to the new immigration laws and called it “outrageous” for activists to say the country is acting out of racism.