USA TODAY, August 23, 2015
By Yamiche Alcindor
FOND BAYARD, Haiti – The children hunched over on a cement floor stare at flies on a dirty bed, living in squalor without books or toys, as refugees in this border town. They are unwanted by the Dominican Republic, their country of birth, and without a home in Haiti, their country of heritage.
Their Haitian parents claim the children, deported alongside adults, are citizens of the Dominican Republic – born and raised there – but they can’t prove it. The families have no birth certificates or naturalization papers. A local school, out for the summer, lets them sleep in their empty classrooms. They are uncertain how they will survive.
Francois Severin has lived among these stateless, homeless people at the school since June when he says he was deported with his pregnant wife and four children from their home in Neiba, Dominican Republic.
The family’s problems began with a 2013 the Dominican Supreme Court ruling that said people born in the country between 1929 and 2010 to non-citizen parents did not qualify as Dominican citizens. While the government said it would give long-term residents a path to citizenship, the decision effectively stripped tens of thousands of people of their nationality retroactively and prompted human rights activists to accuse the government of making people stateless.
Severin moved to the Dominican Republic from Haiti some two decades ago at age 7. His wife, Loulouse Nacius, 30, immigrated from Haiti at age 8. The couple said all four of their children were born in the Dominican Republic, and they have hospital records to prove it. But Dominican immigration guards snatched them off a street as the family walked home after an appointment with a doctor. The guards wouldn’t let them return home to get the records.
“No matter if you are a child or a senior, the immigration guards in the Dominican Republic are free to do anything they want to Haitians,” Severin said. “The guards told me if I returned again they would kill me, because they are tired of Haitians.”
For decades, scores of Haitians, fleeing poverty, migrated east to the neighboring Dominican Republic in search of better lives and job opportunities. As the population mixed, they intermarried, worked together and become beloved neighbors. Now, a move by the Dominican Republic to enforce the immigration law threatens to shred those bonds.
Activists across the world say the Dominican Republic is violating international human rights standards and acting out of racism. Dominican officials deny racist motivation. They say they demand documentation simply to ensure the population is legally entitled to live in the country.
Most of the people affected by the changes in the law were born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents. Those residents who didn’t have the proper paperwork had until June 17 to establish their identity and prove they arrived before October 2011. Dominican officials said they would not begin deportations before August and the officials insisted in July that they had not deported anyone in connection with the new immigration crackdown.
In teeming border towns, dozens of people interviewed by USA TODAY tell a different story. They say they were rousted from homes and off streets with only the possessions they could carry and swiftly dumped on the border. They also claim that immigration officials target people who are darker skinned and often tell people they are too black to be Dominican. Haiti’s foreign minister Lener Renauld confirmed deportees arrived in border towns as early as June.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic, two countries on one island, have a long history of people traveling between the nations. In the last century, Haiti emerged as the more impoverished of the two. Many Haitians, seeking a better life, moved east, and for a time, the Dominican Republic was happy to have them.
From 1952 to 1986, Haiti’s government agreed under contract to send thousands of workers to cut sugarcane in the Dominican Republic in exchange for payment from Dominican officials, said Edward Paulino, a history professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Dominican officials set up communities for the migrant workers called bateyes and paid to transport the workers back to Haiti at the end of the harvest, Paulino said. But the Dominican Republic also allowed many of the workers to stay.
“Dominicans have been importing Haitian laborers for the entire 20th century,” Paulino said. “The reason that many Haitians are there is because Dominicans benefited and profited from cheap, exploited Haitian labor and they didn’t send them back.”
Haitians looking for work have also crossed the border illegally.
Heraldo Estevez Fortuna, 53, a native Dominican, lives in the border market town ofDajabon, where Haitians and Dominicans come together each Monday and Friday to buy and sell goods. Fortuna, who sells plantains and runs a rice farm,works often with Haitians, yet he favors deportation of Haitians without documentation of their citizenship. The country, he said, can’t afford to support everyone.
“Some say they have been here five or six years and they aren’t telling the truth,” he said. “Haitians want to take part of the country for themselves.”
Michele Daius, 50, worked in fields across the country but never registered as a citizen and doesn’t have identification documents from either Haiti or the Dominican Republic. Daius said he came to the Dominican Republic 40 years ago and worked as undocumented sugarcane cutter. He lives at Batey Libertad, a decades-old migrant worker community. He expects one day immigration officers will forcibly remove him from his home. With no family or remaining ties to Haiti, Daius said he has no desire to return to Haiti.
“I gave this country all my life and all my strength,” Daius said. “I rather just die and be buried than be in this misery. Each time I see an immigration guard, I run and jump in the bushes because I don’t have any documents.”
Marie Charles, 27, who lives in the same batey as Daius, moved to the Dominican Republic in 1996 as a child. Her parents worked on farms. She applied under the migrant workers program in March, but can’t provide the documents needed to complete the process and doesn’t have money to hire an attorney to help find them. Her three children, Likson, 6, Anderson, 9, and Eridania, 12, were born in the Dominican Republic and have birth certificates that over time will allow them to become citizens. Their spilt status frightens both Charles and her children.
“Every time an immigration officer passes by this community, I’m nervous,” she said. “My children don’t want to go to Haiti. They were born here. They go to school here. They want to grow up here. They don’t know anything about Haiti. And they cry because they say if I go to Haiti they will suffer a lot.”
Many deportees and international human rights organizations believe that racism motivates the government’s immigration purge. They claim the immigration ruling is rooted in age-old racist notions of dark-skinned people as inferior to those with lighter complexions. Such views, they say, led to the 1937 massacre of Haitians ordered by Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina.
“You cannot talk about what’s going on now without talking about the massacre because when the dictator was killed, official anti-Haitianism died, but the residue remains,” Paulino, the John Jay College professor, said. “It’s an economic issue woven into a kind of issue of citizenship, issue of immigration reform, issue of color and race and xenophobia.”
Julia Harrington Reddy, a senior legal officer with Open Society Justice Initiative, described the Dominican Republic’s court ruling and treatment of Dominican Haitians as a “civil genocide.”
“It’s really going as far as you can go without killing them,” Reddy said. “You essentially make people disappear… In this case, although no one is going out to shoot these people, in a systematic way, taking away their nationality is a way of extinguishing all of their rights and effectively extinguishing them as a social and political force.”
Josue Fiallo, an adviser to the Dominican ministry of the presidency, called accusations of racism and genocide “outrageous.” The country, he said, has deported only recent migrants and not long-time residents. Caonabo Delgadillo, who heads the division of migration for the northern part of the Dominican Republic, also said racism is not a factor in the immigration decisions.
“We don’t have anything against blacks because we are all black,” Delgadillo said. “There’s no problem. Every Dominican has a Haitian working in their house. I personally have two.”
Fiallo said Haiti shares the blame for failing to identify its citizens and quickly issue passports. The Haitian government opened just one of the four Dominican Republic-based immigration offices it promised, he said.
Renauld, the Haitian foreign minister, told USA TODAY the Dominican Republic began leaving large numbers of people on the border the day after the June 17 deadline.The Haitian government, he said, did not have the resources to absorb hundreds of deportees. Renauld blamed the delay in issuing passports on a vendor with technical issues and trouble finding office space.
“Haiti did all it could to help,” Renauld said.
Renauld refrained from calling the deportations racist.
“We don’t want to say flat out that it’s discrimination, but it’s almost similar,” he said. “They deported Haitians like animals and that’s why we cried that it was a scandal.”
Rose Hyppolite, 52, left Haiti at 14 to work. She made a living selling clothes and married an immigrant sugarcane worker. On July 9, Hyppolite said she was shopping near her home when an immigration guard tapped her on her shoulder, identified himself and hauled her by truck to the border without ever allowing her to go home. She believes she was targeted because her deep brown skin.
“I don’t know where I’m going,” she said. “The government has thrown us away.”
Evelin Matias Pie, 32, who was born in Haiti, said she has tried to register her Dominican-born children, ages 6, 13, and 15, as Dominican citizens, but gets the runaround from Dominican officials who repeatedly tell her she needs more paperwork. She’s convinced officials reject her because of her family’s dark skin.
As the crisis between Haiti and the Dominican Republic deepens, international pressure is mounting on both countries to resolve their differences before the situation in the border towns becomes unbearable.
The United Nations Working Group of Experts of People of African Descent has called on Dominican officials to take steps to prevent arbitrary deportations and to adopt measures to address allegations of racial profiling. The Organization of American States sent officials last month to asses to situation and negotiate a settlement. Hundreds of people on Facebook and Twitter have called for tourists to boycott the Dominican Republic.
Long term, Haiti’s foreign minister said he wants to avoid problems with his nearest neighbors. Dominican Republic aided his country following the 2010 earthquake and has been an important trade partner, he said.
“We are two countries sharing an island; we must get along,” he said. “It’s not that Haiti is in the wrong or that Dominican Republic is in the right. It’s a matter of simply being human.”
Until the situation is resolved, vulnerable lives remain in limbo. In Fond Bayard, Severin’s family sleeps with dozens of others in one dusty room at the local school. His pregnant wife, Nacius, sleeps on the cement floor without a pillow or sheet. His fearful children cling to him instead of playing. Severin fears they face a future of abject poverty.
“I’m in a miserable situation,” Nacius said. “I don’t have anywhere to lay my head.”