As of Wednesday, June 17, the deadline for the government of the Dominican Republic’s naturalization process aimed at “migrant workers” was reached at midnight. The alternative faced by migrant workers, as well as Dominicans of Haitian descent? Deportation. Thousands of these workers have deep roots in the Dominican Republic and have lived there exclusively for generations, so to register themselves as foreigners in the Dominican Republic is now a necessary although painful step.
More than 200,000 people attempted to register for residency permits, with many returning multiple times over the course of the week, never reaching the processing center doors. The numbers do not bode well. As of Wednesday, June 17, only 10,000 applicants met all the requirements and of those only 300 people had received residency permits. Additionally, many were turned away as the deadline passed at midnight despite having waited in line, some for 24 hours, according to ABC News.
Additionally, there are downsides to adopting a “naturalized citizen” status, such as not being able to hold certain public office jobs, so many were wary of adopting the new status.
The decision has highlighted the tension-filled relation between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. There have been reports of discrimination and disdain toward Haitian immigrants, especially after rising immigration levels because of the 2010 earthquake, which dislocated upwards of 1 million Haitians.
Adding to the confusion is the lack of correspondence between the people who are to be sent to Haiti and the Haitian government. There is a possibility of no official welcome or support once the deportees arrive.
This court ruling has roots beginning in September 2013, when it was officially announced by the government of the Dominican Republic. The ruling originally prevented the children of Haitian migrants from having citizenship retroactively until 1930, leaving thousands of Dominican-born people of Haitian descent officially stateless. The deadline that passed June 17 was the culmination of the process beginning in 2013. Although widely condemned by the international community, the process of deportations is set to continue, with the official start date in August.
Although the “repatriation” process is set to be “slow and natural,” in the words of Ruben Paulino, the migration director in the Dominican Republic, many people of Haitian descent have been targeted regarding their status and asked for their “papers” in the streets by the authorities.
In a recent development, Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke in Washington Heights Sunday, June 21 to address the situation in the Dominican Republic, stating, “It is clearly an illegal act, it is an immoral act, it is a racist act by the Dominican government.”
De Blasio’s opinion may be strong, but the mayor’s voice on the matter regardless of the stance must be temered by numbers, as New York City has a Dominican population of 674,000 and a Haitian population of little more than 100,000. But for the people who will be directly affected by these developments, the question is raised: “What can I do?” and for now, there is no answer from either the Haitian or Dominican governments.