It is not uncommon that the global issues of the day are reduced merely to the implications on the society within our borders. If we are to be honest to ourselves, Americans (and people, in general) don’t care about the use of disproportionate force in Gaza as much as, to use an American example, police brutality disproportionately done on blacks in urban areas.
Similarly, very few Americans can truly say they are burdened at night over the struggle for women’s rights in patriarchal, oftentimes dogmatic lesser-developed societies where women are subject to arranged marriages on threat of death or mutilation and their difficult push and acceptance in the workplace. The concern lies mostly on the struggles in our workplaces, the right to self-determination in our societies.
What these mentalities ignore is that, in an ever-globalizing world, the struggle of one group in a particular society becomes the struggle of an entire population.
The lack of solidarity with distant like-minded groups is not just a general rule for conflicts happening on the other side of the globe, or has the recent crisis in the Dominican Republic been more widely reported than I thought? Surely if a survey were to ask respondents of their knowledge about it, even posed through a simple “true or false” question, most Americans would respond with a resounding “huh?” While some immigrant rights groups and most news outlets have covered the issue somewhat, it is merely a flicker in what is otherwise a blazing fire.
Here’s a brief summary of what is going on, along with some brief historical context:
For generations, Haiti and the DR have a shared history of colonialism based on sugar cane, an industry which continues to exist mostly on the backs of low-paid Haitian migrant workers who flee the comparatively poor conditions of their homeland, made worse with political conflict and natural disaster, the most recent of which being the 2010 earthquake. Because of this, tensions between migrant workers and native Dominicans have increasingly worsened sometimes to the point of violence, the most notorious of which being the massacre of tens of thousands of Haitians ordered by then-dictator Rafael Trujillo in 1937.
While Dominican nationalists have long opposed Haitian migration, the country’s citizenship policy was generally jus soli, meaning that citizenship is granted simply by being born within its jurisdiction. That is, until 2013, when a constitutional court ruled to strip the citizenship of children born to immigrants — virtually all of whom are of Haitian descent — as far back as 1929.
Following an international outcry, much of which thinly reported by the mainstream press, the Dominican Government adopted two key laws aimed at softening the blow of the recent court rulings. Mark Phillips, a legal fellow with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, reported the following in an op-ed for Al Jazeera:
“[T]he [Dominican Republic] soon adopted Law 169-14, allowing these Dominicans a legal pathway to retain their citizenship, as well as Decree 327-13, allowing Haitians in the DR with irregular status to be regularized. Although Decree 327-13 states that applicants may provide any of five alternative identification documents, including birth certificates, we heard that in practice DR officials were accepting only a passport — and no one we spoke to had access to one.”
These are not the only disconnects between official policy and the accompanying claims the government has made to quell its critics and the outrageous practice of that policy to the real people it affects. Phillips further reported that, in contrast to claims that over 25,000 Haitians voluntarily returned to Haiti in “private, air-conditioned buses,” many Haitians traveled “in the back of a large steel cargo truck; others in hot, overcrowded school buses, their belongings tied to the roof,” with Haitian officials not counting many of the undocumented individuals returning to Haiti.
Haiti’s National Office of Immigration, according to Phillips, claimed that these trips were “part of routine seasonal migration patterns,” even though many of the passengers who were interviewed had spent years in the DR before returning to Haiti.
“On the DR side of the border, we observed a cargo truck — previously used to transport plantains — pull up alongside one of the full school buses parked nearby. We learned that the bus driver refused to continue to Haiti and negotiated to have the cargo truck carry the passengers the rest of the way to Port-de-Paix, in the north of Haiti. The steel, open-air truck box was dirty, smaller than the school bus and not designed for carrying people, especially for hours in the hot sun. Passengers yelled at the driver, saying they were being treated like animals. A few women with babies on their laps were then allowed to sit in the front of the truck with the driver. All others, including several small children, had to stand or sit on their luggage in the back of the truck’s dusty steel box. Several individuals had to hang off the sides of the truck.
This ride, as it turns out, was not provided by the DR government. Nor was it free. Passengers told us they paid the equivalent of up to $60, a large sum for impoverished workers in the DR. To put it in perspective, the next day the Haitian government pledged relief funds to help those passing through the town of Belladère that work out to 110 Haitian gourdes, or $2.15 per person.”
What is being seen in the DR is essentially a mass deportation of people made stateless by a government that at one point tolerated their existence at the very least. To put the situation into perspective, it should be noted that foreign-born migrant workers make up roughly five percent of the DR’s population of 10.5 million — approximately 524,000 people — which does not count the number of currently-living individuals born in the DR to foreign-born parents since 1929, presumably a much larger number, who now either have to produce a document very few have or leave to their “country of origin.”
In the off-chance that still inspires an indifferent “so what?”, here’s another way to look at it: imagine if the Supreme Court tomorrow rules something similar about Americans born to foreign-born parents since 1929. It would make a great portion of the population stateless, considering that the US has a very long history of immigration.
Perhaps it is not the best comparison, considering the comparatively immigrant-friendly policy and bureaucracy in the US, but the situation in the DR is put best by Amnesty International’s Marselha Gonçalves Margerin:
“In a nation of immigrants like the United States, unless you are Native American, you, your parents or ancestors came from somewhere else. Imagine giving birth to a child, and the hospital not giving you a piece of paper declaring she was born, because you don’t have an ID card. You don’t have an ID card because your mother was denied your birth certificate. Imagine not being able to get a job because you don’t have any documents. And then, imagine the government of the only country you have ever known to be your home –the country in which you were born and in which your parents were born– says that you need to go back to where your ancestors came from. This is actually happening in the Dominican Republic.”
Immigrant rights groups in the US often make the argument for immigration reform on the grounds that it would keep families together and those that have been separated can one day be reunited. While it is an entirely valid point with which I agree, one may need to look no further than 2000 miles away in our own backyard to see that the immigrant struggle is not exclusive to one state. One can go on and on, nitpicking on differing political and economic realities and whatever excuse is evolved to further downplay similar struggles. A recent article by Jonathan Katz in the NYT Magazine called the racial and cultural divides a “time bomb” generations in the making, as deeply rooted nationalist and white supremacist mentalities put Dominicans at odds with Haitian migrants. Xenophobia, as is well-known just about anywhere, is what makes the push for migrant rights an uphill struggle, hence why global solidarity is what is required from those who are quick to espouse the same when the victims are those within their own borders.
It is time for a new activist meme to go viral. Certainly what is happening to Haitian migrants in the DR will fall under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement due to its blatant racial and class motivations, but it is broadly covered under the migrant struggle in this instance, as well as just about any number of crises for which further columns are required. If we are so easy to defend the families and the livelihoods of emigrants to the US in the interest of human rights, shouldn’t it be just as easy to fight under a Migrant Lives Matter banner?