Revoking citizenship

This week the Dominican Republic threatened to begin the mass deportation of people the government has decided are illegal residents of the island nation. While this is not the first time the Dominican government has attempted to rid the country of people of Haitian descent. This is the first time they have had the force of the law behind them.

The two countries share the island of Hispaniola. Haiti was once owned by the French until the slaves rebelled and overthrew their colonist owners in the early 1800s. The Dominican Republic was owned by the Spanish.The two countries have had uneasy relations for a hundred years. Haitian migrants have crossed the border to work in the sugar cane fields and as servants in the homes of their better off neighbors for decades. Many people of Haitian descent have lived there their entire lives. Their parents and maybe even their grandparents were born there. They do not speak Haitian Creole or French. They have little or no connection in Haiti. The earthquake of 2010 increased the migration across the border as life in poverty ridden Haiti went from bad to worse.

Now the Dominican government is moving to deport upwards of 300,000 Dominicans who have been stripped of their citizenship as the law no longer recognizes the status of those born in the DR of parents who moved to the country since 1929. The law gave residents the option of applying for foreign resident status. However, those who apply experience delays and mountains of red tape and bureaucratic bungling. Many migrants live in rural areas without access to hospitals and their births are never registered. Being stripped of their Dominican citizenship, having never been to Haiti, those facing deportation are people without a country.

Dominicans who have Haitian sounding names and darker skin than other native Dominicans are being targeted for deportation even if they have the proper documentation. In the next months thousands of people may be driven to the border which separates the neighboring countries and dropped off to find their way in a land foreign to most of them. Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere has no way to deal with the influx of repatriated Dominicans.

The Dominican Republic has changed the rules and in doing so they have made thousands of people homeless and without a country. The people of Haitian ancestry are blamed for the economic difficulties of the DR. Haitians are said to take jobs from Dominicans. They are accused of driving down wages by cheaply doing work the lighter skinned Dominicans won’t do.

The rest of the world has been measured in their response. The US has been careful to avoid condemning the Dominicans’ action. How could we take a position against the deportation of people without documentation? Our country refused to acknowledge the free and democratic republic of Haiti in 1804 because our country’s slave owners did not want the people held in slavery in this country to rise up against their owners.  We looked the other way for more than a century as the French collected reparations for the loss of their plantations and slaves from their poverty stricken former colony. Our government does not speak against the Dominicans now because we, too, are struggling with how to deal with immigrants from neighboring countries.

Sending tens of thousands of deported people across the border into Haiti will be a disaster in a country where disasters have become a way of life.

Copyright © 2015 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains

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