Deadline Nears For Haitians Facing Deportation By Dominican Republic
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A deadline looms tonight for hundreds of thousands of people on a Caribbean island. They've been told to offer proof that they belong in the Dominican Republic, or they risk being deported. The people come from neighboring Haiti, or in some cases their ancestors did. A Dominican court has denied citizenship rights even to the children of Haitian migrants who were born on the Dominican side of the border. Now people identified as Haitians must apply for residency permits or risk being bussed across the border that divides that island. Ezra Fieser is a journalist with Bloomberg Business based in Santo Domingo.
Who are the Haitians who've ended up in the Dominican Republic?
EZRA FIESER: Well, the Dominican Republic has been more prosperous for several decades now. So it's attracted a lot of migrant workers that have come over principally, in the beginning to cut sugar cane, and more recently to work in the construction sites and the tourism industry. I mean, I live in an area of the city where there's a lot of construction now. And if you walk by, you can hear them speaking Creole. You can, in certain tourism sectors, you can hear them speaking French or Creole to some of the tourists. So it's definitely a recognizable community.
INSKEEP: Have many or most of the Haitians in the Dominican Republic arrived illegally, without documentation?
FIESER: The majority of the people that are here don't have documentation. That's really what's feeding this kind of panic that we're seeing now on the streets.
INSKEEP: OK, panic - what's causing the panic?
FIESER: Well, the deadline for this regularization plan expires at midnight on Wednesday. So what we're seeing is people - long lines of people waiting at the civil registry to deposit a document to start that process, even though the deadline is looming.
INSKEEP: So the deadline is, prove you have a right to be here or we will begin throwing you out.
INSKEEP: So how easy is it going to be for Haitian immigrants to prove that they have some legal standing, some legal right to be in the Dominican Republic, some kind of documentation by this deadline of tonight?
FIESER: It's incredibly difficult for a lot of these people that never had a birth certificate, were born at home or for whatever reason. They've really struggled over the past. This is a process that's been going on for the past year and a half. And for them to gather all this documentation, work with - if they need to - the Haitian authorities to, say, get a Haitian passport and then prove to the Dominican authorities that they have been living here is incredibly difficult.
INSKEEP: Have you been running across people who are identified as Haitians who actually are adults and have spent their whole lives in the Dominican Republic, maybe even their parents did, and now they're in danger of being thrown out of the country?
FIESER: Absolutely. I mean, it's a really common occurrence. When you talk to some of these people, most of them have never been back to Haiti, even though that's where their parents or the grandparents came from. Many of them don't speak Creole. They self-identify as Dominican, and they speak Spanish like Dominicans. And they believe that this place is their home.
INSKEEP: How serious is the government about deporting people?
FIESER: From all indications, they're very serious. The president, his annual address made it clear that there would be no - despite international pressure from NGOs in foreign countries - that there would be no extension of the deadline.
INSKEEP: When the Dominican Republic has deported large numbers of people in the past, what has that looked like?
FIESER: What I've seen is buses from the migration department rounding up people in the city - kind of modified school buses - and taking them across the southern border crossing and just leaving them on the other side of the border.
INSKEEP: So as this deadline has approached for thousands and thousands of people, is there any different feeling or look on the streets as you move around?
FIESER: Yeah, what you can see as you pass the civil registry office is long lines. There was a demonstration in front of the Interior Ministry where people were asking for the deadline to be extended and the police had to break that up because they were demonstrating in the street. So it's a tense situation.
INSKEEP: Have there been authorities who've said, look, hundreds of thousands of people actually have filed, have registered, have attempted to prove their legal residency here; this program is, therefore, a success?
FIESER: Absolutely. Even the 240,000 that have registered has passed their expectations. They expected more like 210,000 to register. So they're pointing to it to say this is a humane and this is an efficient way to sort out the standing for people that didn't have documentation prior to this process. They're pointing to it as a success.
INSKEEP: Ezra Fieser is a journalist with Bloomberg Business. He's in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. Thanks very much.
FIESER: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.