Deadline for Legal Status Passes in Dominican Republic; What Happens to Haitian Families?

Nsenga K. Burton Ph.D.
Haitians queue up to legalize their status at the Interior Ministry in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, June 16, 2015. Tens of thousands of people are facing deportations as a deadline for foreigners, most of them Haitians, to legalize their status as undocumented aliens expired June 17, 2015.  

Tensions are high in the Dominican Republic, and communities around the world are watching. The deadline for Dominicans of Haitian descent to produce paperwork to apply for legal residency has passed, and many are worried about when the government will begin deporting them to Haiti. More than 200,000 undocumented immigrants living in the Dominican Republic have registered for citizenship, but that means another 200,000 will not meet the deadline. Stories have been circulating about the difficulty in filing paperwork.

For decades, the country granted automatic citizenship to anyone born in the Dominican Republic, but in 2013 the law was revised, limiting citizenship to those with at least one parent with Dominican blood or who had already been declared legal residents.


Many Haitians came to the Dominican Republic as laborers. Their children were delivered by midwives, many of whom did not keep official records. Thus, it is difficult for many Dominicans of Haitian descent to produce the required paperwork even for consideration to stay in the country. Ironically, employers can provide undocumented workers with a certificate that will enable them to stay in the country, but many employers are refusing to supply the certificates. Of those who applied for legalization by the deadline, 96 percent did not have the required documentation needed to qualify for legalization.

Andrés Navarro, the Dominican Republic’s foreign minister, who had previously stated that those who did not have their paperwork by the June 17 deadline would be deported, is now saying this isn’t the case. Reports are surfacing that Navarro has now pushed back the date for deportations by 45 days in order to ensure a “credible process” by processing the paperwork, creating a database that will be shared with the Haitian government and minimizing errors.

However, Greg Grandi of The Nation is reporting the following:

Gen. Rubén Darío Paulino Sem, the army official in charge of the deportation, says the expulsion will start this Thursday, June 18. Sem has been overseeing the construction of seven concentration camps—which he calls “shelters,” or “centros de acogida”—where Dominicans suspected of being of Haitian descent will be housed until a “final evaluation” can be made.

These two positions aren’t necessarily incompatible. Navarro could be talking about the final deportation to Haiti—which leaves room for the roundup to start next week, with the detained placed in Sem’s camps.


In addition to Gen. Sem’s comments, another sign that the Dominican government will begin deportations sooner rather than later is that the Haitian government has created two new repatriation centers on the border of Haiti and the Dominican Republic to deal with the impending arrival of Dominicans of Haitian descent, many of whom have never been to Haiti.

While Navarro insists that each deportation case will be dealt with on an individual basis, all signs point to a mass deportation. It has been reported that mass sweeps of “Haitians” and dark-skinned Dominicans have been happening in the poor neighborhoods of Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata, the two main hubs of immigration in the Dominican Republic. How are authorities identifying Haitians? Skin color and physical features are the rule of measurement. So if you look “Haitian” or are “Dominican with Haitian features,” then you are in the count for deportation.


It is unclear exactly when the deportations will happen—either Thursday or 45 days from now, which would be Aug. 2. Regardless, the way in which Dominicans of Haitian descent are being treated is precarious at best and unconscionable at worst.

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., a media scholar, is digital editor in chief at Grady Newsource and a faculty member of the Cox Institute of Journalism, Innovation, Management & Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is founder and editor in chief of the award-winning news blog the Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter here or here.

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