NEWS

Petition calls for U.S. to intervene in deportation of Haitian-born Dominicans

06/18/2015 04:17 EDT | Updated 06/18/2016 05:59 EDT
An online petition is putting pressure on the U.S. government to use its influence to stop the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Haitian migrants and citizens of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic. 

The petition is calling on the White House to pressure the Dominican Republic government to stop its planned deportation of Haitian-born Dominicans.

The deportation plan was undertaken by the Dominican Republic's National Immigration Council in part as an attempt to regulate the influx of migrants from neighbouring Haiti. The two countries occupy opposite ends of the island formerly known as Hispaniola in the Caribbean Sea.

Out of the estimated 500,000 non-citizens living in the Dominican Republic, only half of them have registered, but officials say that only about 10,000 have provided sufficient documentation. So far just 300 people have been issued new registration identification. 

Arian Terrill, a humanitarian aid worker and border conflict consultant working in the Dominican Republic explained that there are a number of issues that have hindered the registration process, including cost and administrative delays. 

"It's an enormous financial burden for a lot of people who are already in fragile economic situation," said Terrill. The cost can sometimes amount to four to five days' worth of income. Some people have "to make a choice between filing for registration or feeding their families or going to the doctors," said Terrill. 

Terrill said that in addition to long waiting times, the registration centers are often "understaffed and under capacity." 

Deportation centres set up

According to Dominican officials, those who failed to register by Wednesday's deadline will be at risk of being sent to one of seven deportation centres located at the Haiti-Dominican border. These centres, although not yet in use, have been built in the border cities of Dajabon, Independencia and Elias Pinas. 

"They are in-transit shelters. We cannot hold any undocumented alien for more than 48 hours," said Immigration Agency director Ruben Dario Paulino in an interview with Dominica Today. "We will receive Haitians, clear them and verify whether they have documents or not, then prepare for their transfer." 

Dominican officials have also deployed drones to assist in the patrolling of the border.

Haiti Libre reported that the chancellor of the National Plan of Regularization of Foreigners (PNRE) said there would be a 45-day administration period following the deadline, in which Haitian government officials would need to execute a plan to deal with the sudden influx of deportees from the Dominican Republic. 

Although the Haitian government has set up "repatriation centres" along the Haitian side of the border, no official statement has been released. 

In 2013, the government of the Dominican Republic ruled that anyone who had arrived in the country after 1929 and was not born of at least one parent with "Dominican blood" would be retroactively stripped of their citizenship.

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have criticized the ruling as xenophobic, racist and discriminatory toward Haitian-born Dominicans.

Anti-Haitian sentiments are not new in the Dominican Republic. Earlier this year, a man of Haitian descent was lynched in a public park in Santiago, the country's second-largest city.

These sentiments, Terrill said, are a result of structural discriminatory practices that span over generations.

"[Dominicans] celebrate their independence not from Spain but from Haiti," he said. "Over generations, politicians and dictators have stuck the undercurrent of anti-Haitian reservation to help further their political agendas."

The deadline for the registration program comes in the midst of national elections, with Dominican President Danilo Medina currently running for re-election.

Many people have taken to social media to express their outrage over these events using the hashtag #boycottDR.

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