Haitian migrants in Dominican Republic wait as deadline for legal status hovers

Haitian migrant workers waited in long lines throughout the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, in hopes to submit applications for legal residency before a midnight deadline and avoid possible deportation.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP
Jean Thezon, 26, left, stands with girlfriend Milene Monime, 16, as they look back toward the Dominican Republic border gate after being deported to Malpasse, Haiti, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. Authorities are prepared to resume deporting non-citizens without legal residency in the Dominican Republic after largely putting the practice on hold for a year, the head of the country's immigration agency said Tuesday.

People waited anxiously in long lines throughout the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, eager to submit applications for legal residency before a midnight deadline and avoid possible deportation.

Many had been waiting since the night before, clutching documents they hoped would be sufficient to establish their legal status and allow them to stay in a country that, for some at least, is the only home they have ever known. Nearly all are from Haiti or of Haitian descent.

"I have nothing in Haiti," said Jaquenol Martinez, a sugar cane worker waiting to submit his application under a program to register migrant workers that began a year ago.

Martinez said he has been in the Dominican Republic since he came from neighboring Haiti with his parents as an 8-year-old in 1963. Under the "regularization" program, he should qualify for legal residency, but the Haitian government has yet to provide him with a birth certificate to establish his identity.

Others said they had similar difficulties getting identification from the Haitian Embassy or have been unable to get documents from employers in the Dominican Republic, where many work under informal arrangements in construction, agriculture or as gardeners and maids.

"On my own, I haven't been able to resolve anything," said Delinua Jean-Francois, who said he had been harvesting sugar cane in the country since 1984.

The immigration registration program was supposed to have started in 2004 but it was delayed by legal challenges and didn't begin until last June. Non-citizens must show they have been in the country since before October 2011 to qualify for legal residency.

The law is aimed at regulating the historic flow of migrants from impoverished Haiti to the relatively wealthier Dominican Republic. The government pushed it forward last year amid international criticism of a Supreme Court decision saying people born in the country to non-citizens did not qualify for citizenship under the constitution unless they had at least one parent who was a citizen or legal resident. The ruling rendered thousands effectively stateless. The government said about 50,000 people in this category will be granted citizenship.

The Interior Ministry has said there are about 500,000 people who could qualify for residency under the program. So far, about 250,000 have registered, but officials said only about 10,000 have produced sufficient documentation.

Those who have registered have temporary documents that will allow them to remain while their cases are evaluated. Although Dominican officials sent some Haitians across the border at Malpasse, Haiti, on Wednesday, authorities have said they don't plan mass deportations soon. Still, the country's migration agency has prepared about a dozen buses and set up repatriation centers.

"There is a lot of uncertainty and worry," said Joseph Cherubin, director of an organization called the Sociocultural Movement of Haitian Workers.

Human rights groups say they fear that migration agency officials and the military will deport people arbitrarily if they look Haitian or speak Spanish with a Creole accent as has been done in the past. Associated Press journalists along the border said about 12 people were deported Wednesday, some claiming they had been in the country before October 2011.

Another concern is an estimated 50,000 people who have no documentation at all, including many who were born in the Dominican Republic. Some may qualify to stay but have no way to prove their claim and could be deported to a country they know nothing about.

"It would be catastrophic because they have never been in Haiti, they don't know anyone there, they don't have family," said Chiari Ligouri, a researcher for the Caribbean chapter of Amnesty International. "What would happen with them?"

The Haitian government has cleared a field near the border-crossing point at Malpasse to provide assistance to people who have been deported. That area was deserted Wednesday except for some guards and construction crews.

Some Haitians apparently were unwilling to wait around the find out what will happen: A local TV station broadcast images of what it said were Haitians in vehicles loaded with furniture and other belongings, headed for the border.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.