On January 27, Amnesty International reported that 51 people had been illegally deported from the Dominican Republic to Haiti. Of those 51, 30 were Dominican-born children.
This mass deportation is part of an ongoing effort by the Dominican government to purge its soil of Haitians and their descendants — regardless of the fact that many of them were born and raised in the Dominican Republic and have absolutely no ties to Haiti.
The Dominican Republic is not alone in its anti-Haitian policies. The governments of the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos have also put forth new policies that discriminate against immigrants from Haiti and those of Haitian descent. Even Brazil, Canada and the United States have policies that routinely place Haitians and their children at risk of deportation.
After the Dominican Republic announced a new law that would render 200,000 people stateless, the government was roundly criticized by international organizations. A new plan was quickly drawn up; the proposal was intended to grant citizenship to the Haitian descendants living on the island, but the process was flawed from the beginning. Requiring people who were born and raised in the Dominican Republic to cross the border into Haiti to obtain birth documents was laughable. Since the law went into effect, just 7,000 people have received residency permits that can be later used to get citizenship.
February 1 was the deadline for all undocumented immigrants to register with the Dominican government — despite evidence that the registration process is virtually impossible for some. Without proper documents, 200,000 Haitian immigrants and their children have been rendered stateless, putting them at high risk of having their human rights violated.
A history of antihaitianismo
Anti-Haitian sentiments, or antihaitianismo, in the Dominican Republic (and other countries in the region) can be traced back for centuries and is tied to racial prejudice as well as the colonization of the island that both countries share. The recent hanging death of a Haitian man in the Dominican Republic, which sparked protests against the Dominican government, is just the latest example of violent anti-Haitian discrimination.
In 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered the massacre of 20,000 Haitians. Seen as inferior because of their dark skin, Haitians have been the scapegoats for many of the country’s problems, including unemployment and diseases.
The Dominican government has sent a clear signal: Haitians should go back home. But before the government sends Haitians packing, it must reconcile its labor practices with its anti-immigrant policies. Through the 1980s, Haitian migrants often worked in the agricultural sector — primarily the sugar cane industry — but as demand grew in other industries, cheap Haitian labor grew exponentially. Only 20 percent of Haitian migrants now work in the sugar cane fields, while the agriculture, tourism and construction industries rely heavily on cheap Haitian labor.
Widespread regional discrimination
Anti-Haitian policies are, of course, not exclusive to the Dominican Republic. In the Bahamas, Haitians are also treated as an underclass. As anthropologist Bertin Louis writes in My Soul is in Haiti: Protestantism in the Haitian Diaspora of the Bahamas, Haitians often do jobs that Bahamians aren’t particularly fond of, including construction, cleaning hotels and, of course, agriculture. Like in the Dominican Republic, children born to non-citizens are not automatically Bahamian citizens.
The relationship between the United States and Haiti has also been a long and a troubled one. In the 1970s and 1980s, while Haitians were fleeing a brutal dictatorship, the U.S. launched its wet foot/dry foot policy. If refugees made it to the U.S., they could stay, but if caught out at sea, they were to be returned home.
There was one major caveat, though: the policy only applied to Cubans. Haitians were treated as “economic migrants” and sent back home instead.
Recently, the Obama administration announced the beginning of the Haitian Family Reunification Parole Program — a program that will allow Haitians who have been approved but caught in an immigration backlog to finally come to the United States. The backlog is so severe that some Haitians have waited dozens of years to be allowed into the U.S. to be reunited with loved ones already living there.
The program is a step in the right direction, but only a small number of Haitians would be able to come to the United States in a timely fashion. Most will still face years on the waitlist.
Longstanding prejudice against the first independent Black nation has left Haiti with no love from its neighbors. After the devastating earthquake in 2010, countries in the region sent aid and condolences, but didn’t look toward their policies that desperately needed to be revamped.
If regional partners in Latin America and the Caribbean truly want to help Haiti, they should focus on reforming their own policies that have wreaked havoc on the lives of hundreds of thousands Haitians.