Open border migration policy with Haiti
Historian Frank Moya Pons explained in an article on Saturday in Diario Libre the magnitude of Haitian migration to the Dominican Republic following a relaxation of government migration controls in response to international pressures. He comments that in 1983 there was an estimated 27,000 Haitians living legally in the country. Still by 1998, the Haitian population was estimated at 100,000. By 2004, two British researchers estimated the immigrant population at 380,000 persons. Today, observers say Haitian population in the DR is more than one million.
The key settlements from where Haitians make the cross over are Ouanaminthe, Tiroli, Hincha, Mirabalais, Malpasse, Anse-a-Pitre. Most may start out in farm jobs, but he says most find ways to continue to the east of the island and end up settleming in leading cities where they find work in construction, ambulatory vendors , domestic housekeepers and watchmen in houses. There are others that are employed in coffee plantations, and others in hotels.
"Most of the Haitian residents in the country have entered illegally and remain that way because the Dominican authorities have been incapable of controlling the border when they have chosen to do so, or have abandoned the struggle to control the flow of illegal immigrants," writes Moya Pons.
He explains that on the border there is a network of people smugglers that involves civil authorities and military and local politicians and that profits from smuggling people. He comments that many Catholic priests, for humanitarian reasons and others, contribute to stimulate migration providing protection to Haitians that cross the border.
He writes that Haitians are also assisted by farmers who facilitate migration in exchange for cheap labor that helps them burn forests, clear farmland and harvest crops. "Zones such as Rio Limpio, Los Bolos, Los Pinos, Tierra Nueva, Polo, Maniel Viejo, Loma de Cabrera and others in Bahoruco are in a continuous process of deforestationt converting these lands in desert lands, as has already happened on Haitian side of the island," writes Moya Pons.
He comments that Haitian illegal migration has accelerating from 1998. He explains that in his first government Fernandez deported illegal immigrants, but desisted from doing so given the protests of human rights organizations, both national and international and some members of the Catholic clergy that operate at the border.
"Soon it was clear that the Dominican government would not deport illegal Haitians and the flow picked up pace," he writes.
In 2000, in the Hipolito Mejia government, a program of mass investments in the border, with the opening of roads, construction of rural clinics, aqueducts and schools, installation of electricity grids served to attract even more Haitian impoverished peasants to the border region. And the migration controls were relaxed further because the authorities wanted to avoid being accused of violating the human rights of the Haitians.
"The networks of people smuggling continued to develop."
Moya writes that the government of Mejia opened schools and hospitals to all Haitians that needed these services and granted them an ID document that the Haitians considered as proof their status had been legalized."
He explains that the new government of Fernandez (2004-2010) has maintained the same tolerance policy and as a result there the wave of migration has increased.
He mentions families of middle class and high class have also migrated to the DR to take advantage of social services, education and hospital not available in their country, such as Dominicans have migrated to the United States.
"On numerous occasions public health spokesmen have alerted that in many hospitals most of those giving birth are Haitians. Schools and universities have a growing population of Haitian students that live in community with Dominicans. In Constanza, half of the farmers are Haitians, same as in Barahona at the coffee plantations, in the yucca and tobacco fields of Cibao, in the rice paddies of Bajo Yuna and in the cattle ranches of the east.
He comments some farmers and economists say they depend on Haitian labor. But others, he explains, say it depresses wages and affects Dominican workers. "Others say in the medium term the Dominican Republic will lose the fight against poverty because it is importing every day more poor while the productive base and social services are not increasing at the same pace as the immigrant population.
He comments the 2010 earthquake stimulated even more migration. "That catastrophe opened a new chapter in Dominican-Haitian relationships and the government contributed massive aid. "The earthquake stimulated even more migration and the process is more intense than before. What will be the consequences of this process is still to be seen."