Dominicans of Haitian descent as well as Haitian immigrants have suffered a long history of discrimination, punctuated by outbreaks of targeted violence and detentions. Recently, however, they have faced further difficulties amidst an official crackdown that has seen thousands deported from the country, including many with valid claims of citizenship. This latest episode has brought the country’s deep-seated racism to the surface – and left those still in the country at risk of persecution.

Despite the decades of discrimination they have experienced in the DR, from official persecution to vigilante attacks, thousands of Haitians have continued to settle in the country to work on plantations or in construction. But though they have played a crucial role in these sectors and the wider Dominican economy, their public vilification has persisted – notwithstanding the fact that a sizeable number have been settled for generations and have valid claims to Dominican citizenship.

Their problems intensified in September 2013 when the DR’s Constitutional Court issued judgment TC/0168/13, stripping hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their Dominican nationality. This included all Dominicans whose parents were not born in the DR and was retroactive for anyone born in 1929 or later. It ruled that, in line with the 2010 National Constitution, all children born in the DR to foreign parents in transit or residing in the country irregularly would not receive Dominican nationality.

This judgment has paved the way for the mass deportation of many Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian immigrants to Haiti, as well as exacerbating the already entrenched discrimination experienced by these individuals. Despite some steps to resolve the situation, including the passage of a highly flawed Naturalization Law in May 2014, thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent have yet to regularize their status. Besides effectively rendering them stateless, this has left many at risk of deportation to Haiti – a country some have never even visited. The legislation has been condemned by, among others, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which has highlighted the acutely discriminatory nature of the ruling and its disproportionate impact on Dominicans of Haitian descent, many of whom have been left unable to access essential services such as education and health care.

Although the Dominican government implemented a temporary 18-month suspension of mass deportation in December 2013 in order to allow undocumented foreigners to regularize their status, these deportations resumed in June 2015. Since then, thousands have been deported from the country, including many with valid claims to Dominican citizenship, and the situation for those who remain in the country has deteriorated dramatically.

In a recent interview with staff at MUDHA (Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas), a non-governmental organization providing social and legal assistance to Dominicans of Haitian descent facing deportation and discrimination, Legal and Human Rights Area Coordinator Jenny Carolina Moron Reyes describes how community members have been specifically targeted by the authorities. ‘Community information is spreading on police raids and migration officers entering communities with the aim of deporting foreign persons,’ she says. ‘The national press has highlighted the deportation process that is being carried out by the national authorities, as well as xenophobic and discriminatory actions towards Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, especially women.’

This official crackdown has been accompanied by widespread popular xenophobia and outbreaks of anti-Haitian violence by vigilantes that have forced many to leave the Dominican Republic. There has also been an increase in xenophobic attacks on Dominicans of Haitian descent by nationalist groups in the country. This was recently exemplified by aggressive protests in May 2018 that disrupted the IACHR’s 168th session in Santo Domingo. As a result, the IACHR was prematurely forced to close the meeting to ensure the safety of its members. Elsewhere, border provinces such as Pedernales have experienced a rise in xenophobic attacks and aggression towards Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians. Nationalist groups have also used social media platforms to incite hatred and discrimination towards these groups.

While efforts to resolve the status of Dominicans of Haitian descent are ongoing, they continue to be informed by a fundamental reluctance to recognize Dominicans of Haitian descent as full citizens. Moron Reyes points to the creation of the so-called ‘book of foreigners’ and other registries where Dominicans of Haitian descent are listed as reflecting broader attitudes of what she describes as ‘state encroachment’. ‘They are portrayed by the Dominican government as a solution to the problem of statelessness,’ she says. ‘The fact remains that while the book provides individuals with an identity, it can still leave them stateless.’

While these issues are specific to Dominicans of Haitian descent, their situation and the treatment of Haitian immigrants more generally are interlinked. The denial of citizenship and the official crackdown on immigrants are both reflective of the broader racism all groups have suffered in the country. Even if the situation of the Dominicans of Haitian descent minority is eventually resolved, without a sustained commitment at all levels of society to address this prejudice they will remain second-class citizens in their own country. In the meantime, the deportations continue.

Kate George

Photo: A still from Minority Rights Group International’s film about Dominicans of Haitian descent living with statelessness in the Dominican Republic. MRG.