A cloud of fear and uncertainty has settled over the Dominican Republic in the two days since the government officially closed the doors to migrant workers trying to normalize their status.
Fears of a mass deportation of Haitian immigrants prompted human rights organizations and governments to issue statements and warnings likening the planned purge to ethnic cleansing. The nation, and international observers, braced for the worst.
But early signs seemed to indicate that no such heave is underway, at least not in public. The streets are largely quiet. Gone are the protests, the lines of migrants snaking around the Interior Ministry, the throngs of soldiers and police officers. The most noticeable difference was the relative absence of Haitians, hawking fruit and working at restaurants here in Santo Domingo, the capital.
For now, it seems, the country has spared its migrants, and itself, the devastation of mass deportations. Expulsions, certain to be reported by dozens of news media outlets and human rights groups, would have been a blow to the global esteem of the Dominican Republic.
But since the deadline for illegal migrant workers to register with the government expired on Wednesday night, advocates say that small groups of Haitians have been detained and sent to one of four border stations, where they will be held until their return can be arranged with the Haitian government. Residents also say that many of the unregistered migrant workers are in hiding, hoping to avoid sweeps by the police.
Augusto Acosta, 65, tired and hot and seated at the bar of a small grocery in Northern Santo Domingo, smiled when asked where the Haitians in the neighborhood had gone.
“Now they are all in hiding,” he said. “Their new tactic is to send their wives in the afternoon to get what they need. They don’t come out of their houses anymore.”
The fear of arbitrary deportation has spread even to some Dominicans, who worry that they might be swept up in the dragnet.
Rodolfo Teis, 25, whose parents are Dominican, said he had no paperwork to prove his citizenship despite several trips to government offices.
“They keep turning me away, and I keep going back there, and they keep making up some excuse, and I have never gotten a proper official answer,” he said in an interview. “I am afraid even I could get deported since I have no legal proof of my citizenship.”
While his situation may be a special case, the fear of arbitrary deportation is real for many Haitians.
The government has said that 288,000 foreign workers have registered, about 30 percent more than expected, according to the International Organization for Migration, an intergovernmental group that has been involved with the registration process. But there are at least half a million migrant workers in the Dominican Republic, according to a 2012 survey by the government and international organizations.
That leaves hundreds of thousands of people without a clear sense of what their future holds, and not just the migrant workers who have not registered with the government. Perhaps more worrisome is the fate of those born in the Dominican Republic but who have no official documents, and who, according to a 2013 constitutional court ruling, have been stripped of their Dominican citizenship.
Cy Winter, the chief of the International Organization for Migration mission in the Dominican Republic, said his organization had been training the Dominican authorities to prevent arbitrary deportation. Mr. Winter said the police officers, soldiers and others involved in deportations should know to look for a half-page document that indicates that an individual has been registered and therefore has a 45-day grace period to submit all of the necessary documents to stay in the country.
More broadly, he cautioned, the government cannot afford a mass expulsion of Haitian immigrants, who work in crucial sectors of the economy, from the sugar cane plantations to the construction industry.
“In the end, money talks, and there is a lot of money involved,” Mr. Winter said. “This is a supply and demand issue, and there is simply no way to remove those who are essential to the Dominican economy.”
To that end, his group has asked the government to extend its deadline for allowing illegal migrants to register with the government. The government, as yet, has declined to do so.
Mr. Winter said there were likely to be deportations in the coming days and months, as the government targeted those Haitians who serve the least essential roles in the economy.
Written by Sandra E. Garcia | Published @ New York Times - http://www.nytimes.com