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Story Publication logo June 29, 2023

Inflows and Outflows Across Hispaniola: Economic and Legal Policies Behind Haitian Migration to the DR

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In recent years, a new group of Haitians have arrived in the DR from Haiti’s middle- to upper-income...

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Haitian vendors legally enter into the Dominican Republic from the border town of Belladère, Haiti, Friday, March 5, 2021. Image by Dieu Nalio Chery/The Haitian Times.

A look at the economic and legal policies driving the constant movement of Haitians to and from the Dominican Republic.

Over the past century, various economic, political and social factors have influenced the movement of Haitians to and from the Dominican Republic, and the migration laws regulating them. From the U.S. instituting a seasonal farmworker contractor program in the 1920s to the 2013 law stripping Dominican-born Haitians of their nationality, here’s an overview of the factors driving Haitians’ mass migration and Dominican expulsions over the decades.

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  • 1915-1934 — The U.S. occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934 and the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924. 
    • During this period, the U.S. introduces a seasonal farmworker contracting program where thousands of Haitians move to the DR to work on sugar and other agricultural plantations
  • 1937 — Trujillo massacres thousands in the “Dominicanization of the border”
    • Starting in 1930, the Dominican Republic began emphasizing the racial differences with Haiti in what has come to be known as an ongoing  “antihaitianismo” campaign, according to a 2008 paper published in Socialism and Democracy, a scholarly journal. Throughout the decade, Trujillo’s policy sought to bolster his control over the national territory and to develop Dominican nationalism into a cultural shield against “foreign” influences – that is, Haitian primarily. Trujillo recruited Manuel A. Peña Batlle and Joaquín Balaguer, among a group of intellectuals to carry out his campaign.
    • According to the Socialism and Democracy paper by LaToya Tavernier, “Manuel A. Peña Batlle embarked on the task of distorting Haitian-Dominican history to portray Haitians as hostile foreigners who were culturally and racially inferior to the Dominican people.
    • Between September 28 and October 8, 1937, President Rafael Leónidas Trujillo ordered a massacre in which thousands of Haitians and some darker-skinned Dominicans were killed. Widely known as the Parsley Massacre, the impact led to what’s called the “Dominicanization of the border” as it occurred in the border towns. 
  • 1929-1963 — In ten constitutions drawn over 34 years, the Dominican government defines Dominicans as all persons born in the territory of the Republic, with the exception of the legitimate children of foreigners serving on diplomatic missions or people in transit.
  • 1950s-1970s — More Haitians head to the DR to work in construction, agriculture and other manual labor-intensive sectors.
    • 1952, 1959, 1966 — Haitian men are encouraged to immigrate with their wives and any child  under 10. This mass recruitment of Haitian farm workers triggers corresponding increases in the Haitian population in the Dominican bateyes
    • 1966 — Article 11 of the 1966 Constitution defines Dominicans as all persons born in the territory of the Republic, with the exception of the legitimate children of foreigners residing there for diplomatic representation or in transit.
    • November 14, 1967 — Letter from the Director General of Immigration to the Secretary of State for the Armed Forces Haitians states that 14,441 Haitians were repatriated between 1966 and 1986.
  • 1980s — The volume of Haitians migrating for work continues to rise. Some Haitians driven out also by political instability and economic challenges also go to the Dominican Republic.
    • 1980 —  Refusal of Birth Registration. The Dominican Civil Registry uses this date as the cutoff to refuse to register the birth of children of Haitians in an “irregular migratory situation.”
  • 1990s — Haitian migration experiences a surge, partly due to a devastating earthquake and subsequent economic hardships.
    • March 1991 — Ten earthquakes hit the Dominican Republic, causing significant damage and loss of life
    • June 13, 1991 — Days after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights denounces the mistreatment of Haitians and a U.S. television network broadcasts images of the deplorable living conditions of Haitian cane cutters, President Balaguer issued Decree 233, by which undocumented Haitians under 16 years of age and over 60 years of age who were in the Dominican Republic were to be repatriated.
    • June 18, 1991 — The Government of the Dominican Republic carried out massive expulsions of Haitian sugar cane workers, which numbered in the thousands; they were alleged to include practices in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights.
    • 1994 — Article 11 of the 1994 Constitution defines Dominicans as all persons born in the territory of the Republic with the exception of the legitimate children of foreigners residing there for diplomatic representation or in transit.
  •  2000s — Haitians in the Dominican Republic reached several hundred thousands, driven by ongoing economic disparities and political instability in Haiti.
    • July 21, 2004 —  Dominican Immigration Act of 2004 enacted, tightening the criteria for recognizing Dominican nationality. It leaves any non-resident, including temporary workers, in the same category as a person in transit, meaning that the children of such foreigners would have their nationality passed down to them.
    • December 14, 2005 —  Ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice states that the children of persons in an irregular migratory situation were prevented from acquiring Dominican nationality based on the principle of jus soli recognized in the Constitution. 
    • 2010 —An estimated 200,000 displaced Haitians are thought to have arrived in the Dominican Republic in the months following the January 2010 earthquake. According to Dominican General Directorate officials in the second largest city, Santiago, there are more than 50,000 Haitians in the city. The numbers fluctuate due to changing policies and social tensions.
  • 2010s — The Dominican government removes the constitutional birthright citizenship provision (Article 11 of the previous laws) and makes the acquisition of citizenship dependent on one’s parents’ migratory status. The ruling applies retroactively to Dominicans of Haitian descent born prior to the 2010 constitutional revision.
    • 2013 — The Dominican Republic Constitutional Court issues Judgment 168/13, stating that only persons born in the Dominican Republic to Dominican parents or legal residents are considered citizens. The judgment is applied retroactively to all persons born between 1929 and 2010, impacting Haitian newcomers and hundreds of thousands born in the Dominican Republic of Haitian parents. Groups such as the Organization of American States (OAS) denounce the law for “denationalizing” Haitians
    • 2014 — Law 169-14 passes, requiring those born to undocumented foreign parents to register through a multi-step process in order to be eligible to obtain a resident permit, then claim citizenship. That too was criticized as unduly burdensome and expired, leaving thousands of Haitians unable to show Dominican residency so they might claim citizenship, according to Amnesty International. 
    • 2017 — An estimated 330,000 Haitians were living in the Dominican Republic according to a 2022 report published by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division.
  • 2020 to present — Haitians continue to go to the Dominican Republic in an era that sees a rise in right-wing politicians in the Americas. 
    • August 16, 2020 —  Luís Abinader became president of the Dominican Republic.
    • 2020-2021 — A series of events including kidnappings, including that of Dominicans in Haiti, and the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse, along with the increasing influence of gangs, triggered a significant migration from various classes and levels of Haitian society to the Dominican Republic.
    • February 2022 — Dominican government began building a wall along the border separating the Dominican Republic and Haiti to stem the flow of Haitians and illegal goods. The nearly 13-foot-high wall will span almost half of the 244 miles of land border separating the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
    • 2022 — An estimated 496,000 Haitians are living in the Dominican, according to MPI report published in 2021 and updated in May 2023.





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