There's an uncertain future for thousands of Haitian immigrants to the Dominican Republic

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Marco Werman: A controversial deadline just passed. June 17th was the last day for immigrants in the Dominican Republic to prove they’re living in the country legally. Hundreds of thousands of Haitians are there--Haiti and the DR occupy the same island--and in those Haitian communities in the DR leading up to the deadline, there were fears of mass roundups and deportation. Already more than 10,000 people have reportedly “self-deported,” and the Haitian government has prepared to receive many more. But there have been no signs of mass deportations so far. Haitians are left wondering what comes next. Ezra Fieser is in the Dominican Republic, he writes for Bloomberg. Can you just recap briefly, Ezra, what the June 17th deadline actually meant?


Ezra Fieser: So the government said there’s a long delayed migration overhaul that the government was planning, and the government extending the deadline to June 17th to have anyone that was living in the country without documentation to start the process of regularizing their status, and that could lead to a visa. They had about 289,000 people that registered for the process. Those people that did register have an additional 45 days, until early August, to complete their applications. But it left out as many as maybe 200,000 people that weren’t able to start the process, and those are the people that are at risk of deportation now.


Werman: So should Haitians still expect mass deportations at some point?


Fieser: From every indication, the government has said that it’s going to try to process each individual application to make sure that there aren’t people getting caught up in the process that shouldn’t be deported. As you mentioned, the government seems to be relying on people to voluntarily leave--some 17,000 people have voluntarily returned to Haiti at this point--and the government, yesterday, said that it would continue to provide bus service to the border.


Werman: Does this apply to all immigrants or is the Dominican government really focusing on Haitians, people of Haitian descent?


Fieser: The vast majority of immigrants in the country, because of the proximity to Haiti, are Haitians. I do know that the people that did register in this plan came from several different countries. So theoretically, somebody that was from the Bahamas or Mexico could be subject to deportation but we haven’t seen any of those cases yet.


Werman: So, we’ve been hearing about thousands of cases of self-deportation. How else have people's lives been affected by all of this uncertainty?


Fieser: What I’ve seen on the street is a lot of fear, a lot of paranoia. I was in the streets as the deadline approached and I was talking to a young man, a father of three, who had been here for seven years legally and he couldn’t get into the building to start the process, and he said, “I just don’t know what to do, so I’m planning to go back to Haiti and then try to come back to the Dominican Republic legally.” So, there’s just a lot of uncertainty, a lot of paranoia among the people that are affected by the plan.


Werman: Yeah, my understanding is that even the Dominicans who are of Haitian descent several generations back are worried. How far back is the Dominican Republic looking at people’s backgrounds when deciding whether to deport or not?


Fieser: Sure. So, the 2013 court ruling set the mark back to 1929. So you’re absolutely right--those people that had been here for generations could be affected by this court ruling. People that actually had received their national identity card, called the cédula, have had it revoked because they were born to undocumented immigrants but they considered themselves Dominican, and by all signs until the mid-2000s, they were considered by the government to be Dominican as well.


Werman: Would they possibly get deported?


Fieser: There is a chance, yeah. There have been cases of people who have already been deported that were born here and raised here and never set foot back in Haiti, where their parents or their grandparents came from.


Werman: Wow, that would be a source of major anger, I suspect. How have officials in the Dominican Republic justified this move?


Fieser: They’ve said that the law that was passed in 2013 was the equivalent of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. They’ve really rejected the international criticism that has come by saying, “We’re a sovereign country. We’re not going to let any other country or international organizations tell us what to do.”


Werman: There a lot of Haitian expats in the Boston area and in Cambridge where I live, and I know they’re worried, this is something they’re talking about. This story seems to have touched everyone in the Haitian diaspora.


Fieser: Yeah and, you know, it’s interesting because you see a lot of very vocal opponents of the law among the Dominican diaspora in the United States, people like Junot Diaz, the famed writer who’s been very critical of the way that the Dominican government has handled this.


Werman: So, do you see this right now as kind of the calm before the storm?


Fieser: It’s hard to say. I think that from what I’ve seen the Dominican government will make this a more gradual process. I don’t foresee them going the route of mass deportation, rounding up people in the street. They still have to sort through some 280,000 applications that have been started to see if those people qualify as well, so the total number of people that are vulnerable to deportation could balloon after that August deadline.


Werman: Ezra Fieser writes for Bloomberg. He’s been speaking with me from Santa Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Thanks very much, Ezra.


Fieser: Thank you, Marco.