The Dominican Republic’s boiling state of affairs, involving tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants, has reached a grave pinnacle. The immigrants, largely Haitian or of Haitian descent, face deportation back to the other side of Hispaniola.
The deadline for procuring the documents necessary to prove citizenship if you were born in the Dominican Republic lapsed back in February for the undocumented. And on Wednesday (June 17), the deadline for migrants to “regularize” their statuses also expired. What is going to happen from here on out remains entirely obscured.
To get a complete grasp of what’s exactly happening on the grounds of the Dominican Republic, you’d have to actually be there. With little to no attention garnered from the American media, except for maybe the New York Times and Washington Post, there’s no real encompassing report. Yet even the most cursory of Google searches tells us that something of monumental portion is waiting to implode.
For now, here’s what you need to know:
The Dominican Republic and Haiti have been at odds for decades. Haitian blackness became a different type of blackness than that of a Dominican. It’s a long-standing practice of not recognizing Dominican people of Haitian descent who were born in the Dominican Republic. They are often lumped in with a second group: Haitian migrants who came to the country – sometimes by force – to work in the sugarcane fields. These sentiments were taught in school and repeated through state propaganda until the late ’60s.
Rafael Leónidas Trujillo
One man did more than anyone else to encourage the aforementioned. The country’s president between 1930s – 1961, Rafael Leónidas Trujillo. The 1937 Parsley Massacre is widely regarded as a turning point in Haitian-Dominican relations. The massacre, executed by the Dominican dictator, slaughtered generations of Haitians along with Dominicans who looked dark enough to be Haitian. It was said that their inability to roll the “r” in perejil (the Spanish word for parsley) gave them away.
Haitian-American author, Edwidge Danticat, noted that the state of Dominican-Haitian relations has roots in American history.
“One thing that is not mentioned as often is that early in the 20th century (1915 to 1934 for Haiti, and 1916 to 1924 for the D.R.), the entire island was occupied by the United States,” explained Danticat. “Then again, in the D.R. in the 1960s, Trujillo — who not only organized a massacre, but wiped out several generations of Dominican families — was trained during the occupation by U.S. Marines and put in power when they pulled out. Same with the Haitian army that terrorized Haitians for generations. It is not a matter of blame but a matter of historical record.”
Today’s impending deportations stem from a law passed last year that requires all foreign-born workers to register with the government within a year or face deportation, as noted by the New York Times. The government has said it wants to only get a handle on its migrant work force, and has promised to open a path to naturalization for those who register.
The law, which followed a 2013 court ruling to strip the citizenship of children born in the Dominican Republic to foreign parents, was seen by many in the human rights community as thinly veiled discrimination against the Dominicans’ darker-skinned neighbors.
For the last several months, under so-called Operation Shield, migrant workers have been routinely seized and expelled. The operation is meant to only single out illegal migrants who have arrived since late 2011.
“Border controls of the CESFRONT (Cuerpo Especializado de Seguridad Fronteriza Terrestre) and the army in the region and the work of our intelligence services have been intensified in order to preserve the integrity of our territory,” declared Munoz Delgado, the Dominican Minister of Defence.
The process is prone to being flawed. As that sweep of “cleansing” transpires, those who have complied with the law, even those born on Dominican soil, may be arbitrarily tossed out as well. “All the arbitrary deportations of the past six months, people getting stopped in the streets of towns and cities just for their skin color, raises a great deal of uncertainty and fear,” said Pedro Cano Olivares, a coordinator for the Jesuit Service in Jimani.
Registration is nearly impossible
Many people found the process to be burdensome. It was either too demanding or too far away from their homes. The process of obtaining the necessary documents were even confusing for some. And for those who managed to register, amid long lines and violent clashes, some have been left waiting for neutralization.
On the grounds
The Associated Press recently reported that the head of the Dominican Republic’s immigration agency, Army Gen. Ruben Paulino, said his agency will begin patrolling neighborhoods containing large numbers of migrants.
While Interior Minister Ramon Fadul assured citizens there would be no mass deportations or sweeps when the deadline for registration expired Wednesday evening, Paulino said that his agency has readied 12 buses, seven light trucks and two ambulances for migration patrols. Agents and soldiers have even been given additional training in human rights in preparation for deportation operations.
Mass deportations would raise the likelihood that Dominicans of Haitian descent will be swept up in the wave. “People are concerned that they will be indiscriminately targeting people who are darker skinned, black Dominicans, Dominican-Haitians and Haitian migrants,” said Cassandre Theano, a legal officer at the New York-based Open Society Foundations. “There is no science behind how they pick people.
Photo credit: Getty Images