Melissa Harris-Perry: Children separated from their parents at the border, pregnant women detained and deported, late night and early morning raids and arrests, citizens racially profiled and treated as alien outsiders, a president who's begun constructing a multimillion-dollar border wall. This may sound like a description of America's Southern border during the Trump administration, but it's not. This is the reality of the Western border of the Dominican Republic where in the last three months, 16,000 Haitians have been expelled.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic are neighboring nations of a single island in the Caribbean, and the DR has a long history of enacting racism, classism, and violence against their Haitian neighbors and residents. The current crisis feels particularly acute in this difficult moment for Haitians whose president was assassinated just a few months ago, and whose people are still recovering from the ravages of a recent earthquake. Here's what one Haitian mother told Reuters.
Speaker 1: [foreign language].
Speaker 2: I want to look for a better life because of my children, but now I sit here and think about what opportunities my country has for me. If my country can offer me a new opportunity, I'll stay here. If I don't get any opportunities, I'll be forced to go to another country.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Joining me now is Dánica Coto, The Associated Press's Caribbean correspondent who was just recently reporting out of the Dominican Republic. Thank you for joining us.
Dánica Coto: Thank you for having me.
Melissa Harris-Perry: The DR has deported 16,000 Haitians in the last three months, what is happening?
Dánica Coto: Activists say although deportations have always occurred every year in the Dominican Republic, that this new administration under President Luis Abinader has particularly target Haitian migrants in a way not seen before. For example, they say that unaccompanied children are being deported, pregnant women, lactating women, and they accuse officials of going against the law arresting people from 6:00 PM to 6:00 AM, as well as not notifying their Haitian counterparts about who's being detained and who's been deported and where they're being deported.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Are these Haitian citizens or are these DR citizens of Haitian descent?
Dánica Coto: According to activists, it's everything. It's Haitians who have crossed illegally to the Dominican Republic. It's Haitians who have long lived for decades in the Dominican Republic and originally arrived there under a work permit provided by the Dominican government that has since expired. There are tens of thousands of people trying to renew these documents and activists say that the government has repeatedly refused to do so, which gives them, they say, the excuse to arrest them. As well, activists say that even some Black Dominicans born to Dominican parents have been arrested and deported.
Melissa Harris-Perry: It would be helpful, I think, for some folks who don't know the particular racial history and history of racial violence, particularly in the 20th century, maybe to understand the context in which this is happening.
Dánica Coto: Indeed. If we go a little bit farther back from that, the Dominican Republic doesn't celebrate its independence from Spain. It celebrates it from Haiti on the day that it revolted against what was at the time of violent occupation of the Dominican Republic. Since then, both countries that share the island of Hispaniola have had a very fraught and tense and ongoing weary relationship.
Back in 1937 under the Dominican dictator, Rafael Trujillo, there was an estimated anywhere from about 10,000 to 30,000 Haitians killed particularly along the Western border in the Northwest part of the Dominican Republic near Dajabón and other areas. This was a result of complaints from Dominicans at the time accusing Haitians of stealing cows, crops, and other goods. This fraught relationship has been going on for decades and, as you know, recently intensified given the deepening political instability in Haiti as well as the growing violence in that country that many are trying to flee, and the closest exit is their neighbor in the Dominican Republic.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Let's talk a little bit about that. Has there been an increase in migration of Haitians across that Western border, or I guess the Eastern border for Haiti, into the DR?
Dánica Coto: It's hard to say to compare it with previous years. According to activists, there has been an increase in deportations. They say that there's not been a spike in the flow. There are a lot of Haitians also who are trying to get to the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Bahamas, and other in Puerto Rico as well. There's no statistics that other governments can provide in terms of how many people are leaving.
Haiti is also facing a lot of Haitians who have been expelled by the United States. There have been more than 12,000 expelled since September, and a lot of these people have never lived in Haiti or have spent decades outside of their own country and don't speak their language. Not only do you have just the regular people who have long been leaving Haiti, you also have those who are arriving, and were trying to leave again. You have those two situations coming together.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Really useful reminder for America. Sometimes we have a short attention span on these immigration issues. Your point about what had obviously had people riled up, angry about seeing how Haitian immigrants were being treated on the Southern border of the US. Yet, part of what I hear you saying is that those deportations have now increased the pressure on what's happening here on the island.
Dánica Coto: Indeed. You have more people trying to leave just because you have more people being expelled to Haiti. Haiti right now is not capable of really providing any resources. It's nearly impossible to find a job. Some of these people have families who lost their homes in that earthquake, so they're living in temporary shelters and they don't have a home or a family to stay with right now. On top of it, there's been a spike, a very big increase in kidnappings. Those who have been deported to Haiti with families, they're seeking to leave as soon as possible given the situation.
Melissa Harris-Perry: When you talk about resources and obviously the clear lack of them given the circumstances in Haiti, what are the economic resources and opportunities like in the DR?
Dánica Coto: There's a lot more. The DR has a very, very strong economy. Tourism is the main source of revenue along with other sectors. There's just a lot of work to be found, and as well, a lot of those jobs are not being done by Dominicans themselves. The Haitians come in, they fill in their jobs, they get paid less than the Dominican counterparts. A lot of them, back several decades ago, used to be in agriculture. A lot of Haitians worked in sugarcane fields and then now they're also branching out into tourism, call centers, construction, as well as domestic employment, working as maids for people in Santo Domingo, the capital, and elsewhere.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dánica, am I crazy, or does that sound very familiar to another set of immigration patterns?
Dánica Coto: Indeed, [chuckles] it's very much a reflective of what's happening elsewhere.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dánica, let me just ask this. Given how long this history is, that it is wrapped up with questions of identity and colonialism and language and race, what's the likelihood of a solution in the near future?
Dánica Coto: Unfortunately, I don't really see any solution. The fact is that these two countries share an island. The closest exit for Haitians who are unable either to find jobs or fear for their lives because so many people have been caught up in this gang warfare that has escalated is the Dominican Republic. They're just one border away. When we were along the border town of Dajabon, which is in the Northwest part of the Dominican Republic, you would see authorities bringing in Haitian migrants or those believed to be Haitian migrants, dropping them off at the border.
We would observe them, we would walk with them. We would walk with the migrants. They would cross over into Haiti and 20 minutes, 30 minutes later, they were along the riverbanks trying to cross back. It is this cycle where they get dropped off, they come back in. Then on top of it, Haiti's situation is unfortunately not likely to get better anytime in the future. They're still trying to hold elections next year. President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7th. A lot of people are still trying to recover from the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck in August, killed more than 2,200 people, and destroyed more than 10,000 homes.
Plus, you have the spike in kidnappings. Everyone being kidnapped from students to doctors. Even we interviewed a hot dog street vendor who was kidnapped. Everyone's being targeted with that. There's just a lot of uncertainty. Added to that, on Tuesday, the Haitian government announced that there will be an increase in fuel prices because they can't afford to keep subsidizing fuel anymore.
As you know, there was a recent severe shortage of fuel. Hospitals were turning away patients, schools were not able to operate, a lot of businesses had to cut back on their hours. As a result, people increasingly lost their jobs. It's just this cycle that keeps perpetuating itself and that keeps driving people more into poverty. There's a lot more hunger as well so the only way for many families is to just look elsewhere. Not everybody can afford to pay a trip to Turks and Caicos or the Bahamas or other islands. The cheapest way for them to flee is just across the border.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Dánica Coto is the AP's Caribbean correspondent. Thank you for joining The Takeaway.
Dánica Coto: Thank you very much for having me.
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