Haitians wait for the opening of the border between Jimani, Dominican Republic, and Malpasse, Haiti, on a market day, Thursday, June 18, 2015.
Misma isla, misma raza is Spanish for “same island, same people” and it’s one of the rallying cries of the hundreds who gathered in Washington, D.C., on June 22 to protest the citizenship crisis happening right now in the Dominican Republic. Haitians, and those descended from Haitians, are being denationalized while the threat of deportations looms. In September 2013, a Dominican high court ruled that anyone born after 1929 to undocumented parents were not citizens. With the government’s June 17 registration deadline now passed, an estimated 200,000 people are threatened with deportations and statelessness—and most of them are black.
The crisis happening in the Dominican Republic affects two kinds of people. Black Dominicans born to Haitians or with Haitian grandparents and Haitian migrants who came to the Dominican Republic to work in the sugar cane industry or the booming tourism industry.
The crowd that had gathered in Washington’s Dupont Circle came with a multitude of signs. Some read “Black Lives Matter” and others “Human Rights Knows No Borders”. Organized by the Association of Haitian Professionals, marchers included the old, the young, Dominicans, Haitians, and even local politicians.
Deni Taveras is a Democrat who represents District 2 in Prince George’s County Council, a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. Councilwoman Taveras is the child of Dominican immigrants but showed no hesitation in calling out the Dominican government. “At the end of the day, these people are Dominicans. When you grow up and this is all you know, this is your country,” Taveras says.
Several Metropolitan Police Department officers blocked off streets as the rainbow coalition marched down the street chanting, “No justice! No peace!” and “Tout moun se moun”, which is Haitian Creole for “all people are people”. Carrying signs, flags, and chanting the crowd winded down the street to their destination: the Embassy of the Dominican Republic. The dozens of marchers wanted to express what the signs already made clear: not one more racist deportation.
But even with protests popping up in cities across the country and world, the plight of the Dominicans and Haitian-Dominicans remains largely ignored.
Conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic goes back a long time. Even though the two nations share the island of Hispanola and a long and complicated history, the relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic can be described tense at best and deadly at worst. The Haitian annexation of the Dominican Republic lasted from 1822 to 1844. And in 1937, under Dominican President Rafael Trujillo, antihaitianismo—Spanish for anti-Haitianism—essentially became institutionalized when he ordered the massacre of 20,000 Haitians living near the border.
Today, antihaitianismo still casts a cloud over migrants living in the Dominican Republic. Like Mexican immigrants in the United States and Arab immigrants in France, Haitians are often blamed for the social ills of the Dominican Republic.
When the Dominican government announced the new ruling, the backlash from the international community was enough to get the government scrambling for a PR fix. Those who could prove that they were registered with the government or had Dominican birth certificates would not be at risk for deportation. The fix, however, wasn’t enough.
During the 19th century, many undocumented migrants were unable to or actively prevented from registering the births of their children. For Haitian migrants, employers did not provide them with work documentation. On June 17, the deadline to register, the Associated Press reported that many Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans were still waiting in long lines to present the government with proof that they belonged in the Dominican Republic.
While Dominican President Danilo Medina remains adamant that international legal standards have no bearing in his country, the deportations are clearly in violation of international human rights law. Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights clearly states that everyone has a right to a nationality. Human rights groups have called on the Dominican government to rethink the new law that would render so many people stateless.
According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are currently 10 million people stateless people worldwide. Statelessness occurs when borders are redrawn, when gaps are opened in nationality laws, or when a government moves to rescind the residency rights of a certain group. Without a nationality, obtaining an identification card or opening up a bank account can be nearly impossible. With no country to call home, stateless people are often unable to enjoy basic human rights.
While this human rights calamity occurs just hundreds of miles from American shores, much of the mainstream media has largely ignored the issue and politicians have remained quiet, save for a few. Former Governor Martin O’Malley and presidential contender called for the United States government to speak up. “These mass deportations—if enacted—would also be an abhorrent affront to human rights by one of our closest neighbors,” said O’Malley in an op-ed for The Huffington Post.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also added his voice to the debate. “It is clearly an illegal act, it is an immoral act, it is a racist act by the government, and it’s happening because these people are black,” he said to a group of people at the Malcom X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Education Center. So far, the Obama administration is yet to formally address the citizenship crisis.
As activists and select politicians struggle to bring the crisis to the forefront, the effects of the law are beginning to materialize in the Dominican Republic. Robert Lovato for The Nation reports that many Haitians are going into hiding. The Huffington Post’s Roque Planas documents the tens of thousands of children who are at risk of being kicked out of the only home they’ve ever known.
The fates of 200,000 people remain in the balance. A crisis of this magnitude should be making headlines across the globe.