Haitian Groups Protest in Union Square

Members of the Haitian diaspora marched from Union Square downtown on July 2 to express their disapproval of the Dominican Republic stripping thousands of Dominico-Haitians of their citizenship.

The Haitian American Caucus, a grassroots organization that seeks to empower the Haitian-American community of New York City, organized the march. Similar marches in Miami, Atlanta and Port-au-Prince, Haiti also occurred at the same time to raise awareness about this issue.

Protestors carried a banner with the hash tag #1Island painted across it. Haiti and the DR are the two nations located on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Their geographical proximity has for years encouraged Haitian migrants to cross the border in search of better economic opportunities in the DR. There are thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent residing in the DR, but that might soon change.

The highest court in the DR ruled in 2013 that the citizenship status of Dominicans of Haitian descent will be removed even though they were born in the DR. The Dominican government passed another law a year later to provide a  system whereby Dominico-Haitians could register and obtain citizenship. However, it would still be difficult for many of those from impoverished backgrounds to secure the documentation required to ensure that they remain citizens.

“If they are there illegally, the first step is to go to court. They are not being deported, they are being expelled without any due process or going to court,” said Anel Norgaisse, president of the Haitian American Lawyers Association. “They were born there and raised there. Some of them have never been to Haiti, so how do you kick them out without going through the court system?”

Without citizenship Dominico-Haitians will be unable to register their children’s birth, enroll in schools, travel freely and participate in the formal economy. This applies to those who have been born in the DR and never set foot in Haiti.

“This is not a Haitian versus Dominican issue, this is a human rights issue,” said Jennings Lewis, a member of HAC who led the march. “We are out here today to raise awareness about the people in the DR that have been exiled from their homes.”

Tens of thousands of Dominico-Haitians risk expulsion and are stuck in a legal limbo, according to a report published by Human Rights Watch. The report documented several cases of arbitrary detainment and forced removal of Dominico-Haitians who had the proper legal documentation.

“We are all marching today because we understand that Haitian lives matter,” said Sam Pierre, the executive director of the HAC. “We’re not going to take a backseat on this.” Pierre called for the United Nations to place sanctions on the DR, boycotting of Dominican goods and travel to the DR as well.

While many waved Haitian flags as they marched, the crowd did not consist of Haitians alone. Others came to show support for their friends of Haitian descent. Minerva Solla proudly waved her Puerto Rican flag as she marched through the crowd to show that this wasn’t strictly a Haitian issue, but an issue for the entire Latino community, she said.

“All Latinos, whether they’re Puerto Rican or Dominican, should unite together around all the different issues we’re going through,” Solla said. “I’m here today to show support for the Haitian people who were born in the Dominican Republic. They are Dominican and the government should not be deporting them from their homes.”

The march ended on Sixth Avenue and 15th street with a closing statement made by Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte. “If we have to march every day, we will march every day. This is unfair, this is unjust, because all of our lives matter, Haitian lives matter, Black lives matter and Dominican lives matter,” said Bichotte.

Rahimon Nasa and Aaron J. Montes are Knight-CUNY Journalism Summer Fellows

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