The Dominican Republic’s border wall cements what we knew: its immigration policies are xenophobic

By Shannon Garrido, Multimedia Managing Editor

As of this year, spike, metal, and concrete will occupy the Dominican-Haitian border, as a wall is currently being constructed where the countries meet. Elon Musk-enthusiast and President of the Dominican Republic Luis Abinader implemented this idiotic project that will alter the border that has existed for over four hundred years with a tumultuous and violent history, filled with colonizing empires and barbaric monarchies.

This Sunday, in an effort to “stop irregular rates of migration, and the smuggling of goods, weapons and drugs,” the Dominican government announced it is in the process of building a wall across the 392-kilometer (or about 243.6-mile) border. This wall is set to be 20-centimeters (about 7.87 inches) of thick concrete topped by a metal mesh, and 12.8 ft high with fiber optics for communications, movement sensors, cameras, radars, and drones. 

The cost of this project has yet to be made public, however, construction for the wall seems to be well on its way. Knowing the track record of the Dominican government and how much I doubt that a plan like this is even feasible or will come into fruition, this discussion is about what the wall represents. As the anniversary of Dominican independence from Haiti approaches, on Feb. 27, let’s think about what this border truly means in accordance with the historic discrimination of Haitian residents. 

There are close to half a million undocumented Haitians living in the Dominican Republic, according to the Organization for International Migration (OIM). Being from one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, many Haitians cross the border in search of work, either in the agricultural industry or the construction industry.                                       

There are more illegal Haitian kids in the DR now than adults. As many as 70 percent of the kids living on the streets of Santiago are Haitian. Little boys shine shoes, clean cars, or sell snacks to buy themselves a meal, while many others are at the mercy of exploitative employers.

Anyone who has lived in the Dominican Republic and possesses even a speck of common sense can understand that saying that they are treated as second-class citizens is putting it very lightly. On any given day, I drive around Santo Domingo and witness Haitian immigrants, children and adults alike, getting harassed and abused in crosswalks. Moreover, institutionalized discrimination against Haitians is nothing new for the country either. 

Presidents like Joaquin Balaguer and Leonel Fernandez performed mass deportations of Haitians during their time in office. Fascist dictator, Rafael Trujillo – who was obsessed with “whitening” the island – ordered the massacre of Haitians in border areas. The number of people murdered by the massacre is estimated to range from 10,000 to 25,000 over the course of only a few weeks. While it has to be one of the bloodiest and cruelest moments in our history, it is still one that is constantly skimmed over during history class. 

In 2013, the Dominican government ruled to revoke the citizenship of children of illegal Haitian migrant workers, a measure applied to anyone born after 1929. This meant that migrants’ children, grandchildren, and in some cases, even great-grandchildren would have their citizenship revoked and access to services such as schools or healthcare repressed.

This Black History Month, the Dominican president has decided to add to that atrocious list of events and build a wall of bigotry on the border of the first ever Black republic. It would be one thing to believe that the Dominican government was acting on their own accord, but it’s another to be from the country and witness first hand the rhetoric used to demean Haitians as a whole.   

I don’t know how many times I have heard Dominicans replace the word “Black” with “Haitian” and use it as a means to put people that present in such a way in a place of inferiority. So much of the Dominican Republic’s relationship with Haiti is blatant racism. The earliest roots of this “antihaitianismo” — anti-Haitian discrimination— go back a long way. 

After gaining independence, many Dominican nationalists spread the word that in order to proceed as a sovereign country they needed to “emphasize their racial and cultural distance from Haiti,” according to Human Rights Watch. Which included efforts to “improve” their country by encouraging white immigrants to come in and make a living while simultaneously imposing strict controls on nonwhite migrants, which they have maintained ever since. So, with all this racist education being spoonfed to every new generation, how are there over 500,000 undocumented Haitians currently living in the Dominican Republic?            

The DR has been utilizing Haitian bodies for their labor for decades, and there are many accounts of exploitative and abusive treatment from Dominican employers. The average Haitian is nearly 10 times poorer than the average Dominican, and much more likely to be unemployed. Yet the DR still uses immigrant labor to cut its sugar, build its infrastructure, and staff its tourism destinations.  

According to the Atlantic, these restrictive immigration policies benefit only those who utilize cheap labor because it provides them with a freer hand. With no protection from workplace regulations and the fear of being deported or replaced whenever it’s convenient for employers (including right before payday), Haitian workers live in a constant state of abuse for a check. A check that in most cases can be the difference between life and death.

We use Haitian immigrants for their labor, and exploit them for as little as nothing, yet complain when those same immigrants’ children come to our windows asking for spare change. It makes absolutely no sense. Dominicans are obsessed with separating themselves from the same people they share an island with, their second-largest trading partner, and the reason we can uphold this increasingly unsustainable tourist economy.                       

President Abinader announced on Sunday that, “The severe institutional and security crisis that [Haiti] is going through has brought its people to a worrying situation of social and political instability,” referring to the crisis triggered by the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moise on Jul. 7. This crisis “must be overcome by the Haitians themselves,” he added.

What an insightful thing to hear. It’s almost as if we have heard this kind of rhetoric before. All Haiti has to do is pick itself up by its bootstraps and the country will repair itself, right? It’s not like there is a long history of imperial powers draining the country economically, politically, and environmentally.

Haiti has been put in a headlock by every single one of their geopolitical neighbors, but they have also been at the end of horrifying natural disasters. The 2010 earthquake devastated the country’s infrastructure and agriculture while leaving an estimated 316,000 people dead. On Aug. 14, 2021, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the island again, leaving more than 2,200 dead, over 12,000 injured, and 800,000 people, including 340,000 children affected or displaced. 

Environmentally, the country has suffered tremendously. Due to extreme poverty, natural disasters such as the 2010 earthquake, and unstable political management, much of their biodiversity has depleted.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Haiti’s dependency on charcoal and firewood in conjunction with their lack of access to clean, affordable energy options is a critical threat to their air quality. It’s also what leads to deforestation and the production of greenhouse gasses. The widespread deforestation has led to flooding, dramatic rates of soil erosion, and declines in agricultural productivity. 

What I’m trying to say is that Haiti has not had it easy. It’s truly the part of the island that has had to endure the most, and Dominicans have resorted to violent xenophobic policies and treatments to justify their exploitative measures. The Dominican government continues to push the narrative that they are ‘invading our space’ and bringing ‘crime and drugs.’ Yet, few to no public officials seem to put forth programs or measures to improve and validate their status in the country. 

Keeping Haitians at an extreme disadvantage benefits all the wrong people, but it doesn’t benefit the majority of Dominicans. It’s not in most of our best interest to allow for this violent cycle to persist. If you cannot find it in you to care about the countless kids, parents, and friends who have to endure the hardship that is being an undocumented Haitian in the DR, then at least try to understand that building a wall has never been to protect you, but to continue to oppress others.