How refugees at ground level describe socialism’s latest failure. Will young Americans listen?
Pierre Martin doesn’t walk to work anymore. The Haitian works at a small private school in Puerto Plata province of the Dominican Republic (DR), but it’s no longer safe for him to be on the streets. Instead, a Dominican co-worker picks him up and brings him home. Martin was born in Haiti and came to the DR illegally with his family as a child. He has not been able to afford the cost of residency paperwork in the DR and now faces deportation, along with tens of thousands of Haitians under a Dominican government crackdown on immigrants.
Haiti and the DR share an island but have many differences. Language: Creole (a blend of French and several African tongues) is Haiti’s primary tongue, while Dominicans speak Spanish. Unemployment: 40 percent in Haiti, 15 percent in the DR. Poverty: Haiti is seven times poorer than its neighbor.
One common denominator: governmental corruption. Haitians began immigrating to the DR in the early 20th century to fill the need for labor in the sugarcane fields. The Dominican economy grew to rely on the labor force; but racial tension grew, and DR dictator Rafael Trujillo exacerbated it in 1937 when he ordered the massacre of thousands of Haitians along the border of the two countries.
Many Dominicans and Haitians live together in peace, but tensions have been historically high in cities like Moca, where walls along the main street recently displayed the spray-painted slogan Fueron los Haitians, “Out with the Haitians.” Racism is a factor for some—DR residents are typically lighter-skinned than Haitians—but others cite economic justifications for “humane deportations.”
In response to international pressure against deportation threats, the Dominican government began running free buses from the DR to Haiti for Haitians who do not qualify for or cannot afford residency, but want to avoid deportation.
The current crisis became acute in February, when the Dominican government announced a June 17 deadline to enforce immigration laws passed in 2010 and 2013. Haitians can now apply for “regularization” by submitting paperwork to a Dominican immigration office and receiving permanent resident status. Sadly, many Haitians lack birth certificates and other necessary documents, and most cannot afford the $230 fee for regularization. Most Haitians living in the DR cannot earn more than $10 a day when they do find work, so many take high-interest loans.
Government officials on both sides posture and use the issue for political advantage. Regularization is both complicated and confusing. The process changes from day to day and office to office. In the end, both governments benefit from the fees that Haitians pay for their paperwork, though neither wants to deal with the burden of more poor people.
—Sharla Megilligan is a World Journalism Institute mid-career course graduate