Hundreds of thousands of Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent face a troubling deadline on June 17: the last day to gain legal residency or face deportation under the rules of a 2014 immigration law.
While an estimated 524,000 people could apply, less than half submitted applications and only 10,000 had the necessary documents. A much tinier number actually received residency permits: only 300. Meanwhile, the Dominican government is gearing up for deportations, though officials said those who can prove they submitted an application will not be deported.
So how did it get to this point? Understand the policy dynamics behind what’s happening.
Stirring Controversy: The 2013 Constitutional Court Decision
The Dominican Republic and Haiti share a border and a fraught history dating back hundreds of years. In the 1930s, dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered the killing of an estimated 20,000 Haitians along the border in the infamous “parsley massacre.” And while Haitian migrants have long flocked to the Dominican Republic to find work, more came following Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, when the government temporarily suspended deportations.
But just weeks after the quake, a new Constitution took effect, which defined citizenship as those with Dominican parents, restricting Haitians’ Dominican-born children chances of gaining citizenship. The legal framework also excluded children of undocumented migrants from citizenship.
Then, in September 2013, the Constitutional Court ruled that children of undocumented Haitian migrants born in the country after 1929 did not qualify for Dominican citizenship. Judges also ordered the government to audit birth records over the past 80 years to identify those disqualified from citizenship. This move left an estimated 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent at risk of becoming stateless.
Setting a New Immigration Policy Following International Scrutiny
Facing backlash from abroad, in November 2013 President Danilo Medina issued an executive order instituting the National Regulation Plan for Foreigners. This policy ordered Dominicans with foreign parents and lacking legal residency to register with the government by May 2015 under threat of deportation. They would be able to apply for residency and then become eligible for citizenship within two years.
The following year, Medina sent a bill to Congress, which became the country’s new Naturalization Law in May 2014. The legislation created a path to citizenship for children of migrants who have government IDs and their names in the civil registry. Those lacking documents would be able to apply for residency and gain citizenship if they could prove they were born in the Dominican Republic. In addition, the law allowed foreigners to gain residency if they could prove they were living in the country prior to October 2011.
Registration began in June 2014, with a deadline to prove citizenship by February 2015. But red tape, delays, and refusals by employers to help with paperwork meant only a few hundred people managed to gain residency permits.
In late May, the country’s electoral board released the names of the court-ordered audit of records since 1929. It found 53,000 people considered ineligible based on the 2013 court ruling, but the government said it will grant citizenship to this group. Under the 2014 law, this government body is supposed to validate citizenship of Dominican-born children of Haitians with valid birth certificates, which since 2007 can be legally withheld on suspicion of immigration fraud. Only 132 people will potentially face trial for immigration fraud, while another 4,000 are under investigation.
Last month, Interior Minister Ramon Fadul said the deportation process would be “gradual” and that after the June 17 deadline, the government has 45 days to respond to the residency applications. He added that as of August 1, “there’s no turning back” when it comes to repatriations.
While it remains unclear how many people could be deported this week, Army General Ruben Paulino told local press that 2,000 police and military as well as 150 inspectors were prepared for the process. He also said the military will start patrolling immigrant-heavy neighborhoods on June 18. “If they aren’t registered, they will be repatriated,” he said.