Haitians Face Deportation From Dominican Republic As Deadline Nears
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island and also deep animosity. Now there's a move by the Dominican Republic to deport people of Haitian descent from the country, which could affect more than 100,000 people. They include migrants and those born in the DR to Haitian parents, meaning some have never set foot in Haiti. They have until midnight tonight to show documentation and apply for residency permits to the Dominican Republic. After that, the government is preparing to round them up and bus them to Haiti. To talk more about what is driving this policy, we turn to Michele Wucker. She wrote the book "Why The Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians And The Struggle For Hispaniola." Welcome to the program.
MICHELE WUCKER: Great to be here.
CORNISH: So this all goes back to a high court ruling in the Dominican Republic in 2013 that denaturalized those of Haitian heritage born in the Dominican Republic. It also did so retroactively - right? - back to the year 1929. Why that year?
WUCKER: Nineteen twenty-nine was the year that the Dominican Republic and Haiti finally drew a formal border between the two countries. It's frightening for many Dominicans of Haitian descent whose parents came there, who've been there for generations, who don't speak a word of Creole, who've never been to Haiti. Spanish and the Dominican Republic is all they know, and all of a sudden, they've been told that they don't have a state anymore.
CORNISH: So prior to this point, for these people and their ancestors, what was their citizenship status?
WUCKER: The Dominican government, for many years, had been bringing Haitians into the country to cut sugar cane and, later on, to do construction and other agricultural work. Many of these people were brought across without papers. So there was this strange situation whereby people were officially brought over by the government, yet still weren't treated as though they had legal status. The other complication was a part of the constitution that said that if you were born on Dominican soil, you were a Dominican citizen, unless you were, quote-unquote, "in transit or a diplomat."
Now, to me, in transit means you've got a layover in the airport. The Dominicans interpreted this for many years as even if you lived your whole life in the Dominican Republic, even if you were brought there by the government to do work in government-owned fields, you were still, quote-unquote, "in transit." And so you and your children were not entitled to legal status or citizenship.
CORNISH: Help us understand how we got here, in terms of this deadline and this policy. What's driving this today?
WUCKER: Over the past 15 years or so, there've been a series of lawsuits - Dominicans of Haitian descent trying to get the government to recognize what the constitution said, which is that they were Dominican citizens. International outcry over the failure to recognize the citizenship that was guaranteed in the constitution intensified this debate and led to the highest court in the Dominican Republic saying, you know what? Forget it. Nobody's citizens. We're going to just lay down the gauntlet and deny citizenship retroactively to Dominicans of Haitian descent.
CORNISH: That seems incredible, given the number of people of Haitian descent living there. Can you get about how established that community is and - in terms of even documentation?
WUCKER: Well, Haitians have been migrating to the Dominican Republican for many, many years. The numbers have ranged all over the place - hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent in the country. There was a resurgence of migration from Haiti following the earthquake - people trying to leave because of the extreme desperation after that. And things in Haiti haven't gotten better as quickly as people hoped - Haitians themselves. And that intensified the tensions over Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic.
CORNISH: Is there a chance that this most recent policy - this deportation policy - could backfire on the Dominican Republic?
WUCKER: There's a very big chance that the policy could backfire. In the past, deportations have ended up bringing Dominicans who happen to have very dark skin and dumping them in Haiti. If the deportations destabilize the economy and society in Haiti, it could end up with many more Haitians coming back to the Dominican Republic.
CORNISH: Michele Wucker - she wrote the book "Why The Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians And The Struggle For Hispaniola." Thank you so much for speaking with us.
WUCKER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.