Dom Rep deportation fears grow after citizenship ruling
Wilver Cuevas Betances was born in the Dominican Republic and never left until he ran into some soldiers at a bus station in Santo Domingo who demanded his passport.
"I don't have a passport. I'm Dominican," the 29-year-old recalls telling the soldiers. Ignoring his pleas, his perfect Spanish, and the Dominican identification card showing his birthplace, they deported him the following day across the border to Haiti.
Four days later, after a night on a park bench in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, he sat in wrinkled clothes in the office of a migrant assistance group, struggling to make himself understood in the unfamiliar language of Creole, the French-based language spoken in Haiti.
"I have nothing here," he said. "I don't know anyone."
Migrant advocates are bracing for more abrupt deportations to impoverished Haiti as a result of a recent Dominican court ruling that narrows the definition of citizenship. So far, there have not been mass deportations, but there are growing accounts of people being summarily kicked out of the country, in some cases apparently based solely on the colour of their skin.
"Blacks are hardly going out because they're picking up a lot of dark-skinned people," Cuevas said in an interview Thursday at the office of the Support Group for Repatriates and Refugees, a nongovernmental organisation.
In September, the Dominican Constitutional Court ruled that being born in the country does not automatically grant citizenship, and it directed officials to purge voter rolls of non-citizens, including people born to non-legal residents going back to 1929. Advocates say 200,000 people could be stripped of citizenship, along with the documents they need to work or attend school, although the government says an initial count came to about 24,000.
The ruling, based on a new 2010 constitution, is a reflection of deep hostility in the Dominican Republic to the vast number of Haitians who have come to live in their country, many brought in to work in the sugar industry and their descendants.