Dominicans of Haitian descent scramble for residency amid deportation threat


Yesenia Originé has never been to Haiti and has no interest in going.

She was born in the Dominican city of San Pedro de Macorís to Haitian parents. But because she has no papers to prove it, she, like thousands of other people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, risks being rounded up and deported to the neighboring country.

Many people in Originé’s situation are fearing the worst ahead of the Wednesday deadline for an estimated 500,000 undocumented persons living in the Dominican Republic to register with government authorities. The country’s authorities have reportedly lined up a fleet of buses and established processing centers on the border with Haiti, prompting widespread fears of mass roundups of Dominicans of Haitian descent.

“If they send me there, I don’t know what I’ll do,” says 22-year-old Originé who lives in a batey – a company town for sugarcane workers – in the south-west of the Dominican Republic.

A 2013 court ruling stripped children of Haitian migrants their citizenship retroactively to 1930, leaving tens of thousands of Dominican-born people of Haitian descent stateless. International outrage over the ruling led the Dominican government to pass a law last year that allows people born to undocumented foreign parents, whose birth was never registered in the Dominican Republic, to request residency permits as foreigners. After two years they can apply for naturalisation.

However many have actively resisted registering as foreigners because they say they are Dominican by birth and deserve all the rights that come with it – for example a naturalised citizen cannot run for high office.

Beneco Enecia, director of a community development group called Cedeso that works with Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent in the town of Tamayo, says his organization does not recommend those born in the Dominican Republic to apply for residency. “We tell people to resist and we will continue to press for their recognition as citizens,” he says. “They are Dominican, not Haitian.”

But that means that after the 17 June deadline, people in Originé’s situation could be picked up and sent to the border. “There are rumours that on the 18th there will be a roundup at the batey,” she says. “I’m afraid to go out on to the street.”

Interior minister Ramón Fadul has denied there will be mass roundups. But major general Rubén Darío Paulino, the country’s director of migration, told local press that 2,000 police and military officers and 150 inspectors had received special training for deportations. 

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