Johns Hopkins University Press

A recent wave of mass deportations in the Dominican Republic has displaced thousands of people of Haitian descent. Over the past fifteen years, a series of policy changes in the D.R. have systematically denationalized and marginalized generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent. This article discusses the historical and political context of these discriminatory policies, as well as the role of anti-Haitian racism therein.


Targeted mass deportations are currently impacting thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. Official figures of those detained and deported are not yet available, but estimates range from between 85,000 to 180,000 people of Haitian descent that have been expelled from the Dominican Republic since the beginning of 2022—more than twice the amount expelled throughout the previous year.1 Of those deported, some were Haitian, and others were Dominican citizens with Haitian ancestry. These are the two groups that are primarily affected by the Dominican government's forced removals but reports also include stories of Black people from other ethnic backgrounds being detained by Dominican authorities. Although the Dominican Republic has a range of racial categories between "black" and "white," darker skin is associated in the country with people of Haitian descent, such that the U.S. Embassy has had to issue a statement warning that "darker skinned U.S. citizens and U.S. citizens of African descent" may have increased interaction with Dominican officials because their skin color is associated with Haitian illegality based on historical and contemporary discrimination patterns.2 Detainees are often kept in overcrowded detention centers for days at a time, without the ability to challenge their detention, and without access to food or restrooms, before being released or deported to Haiti, a country that many of them have never known.

Mass deportations not only affect individuals who endure racial profiling and inferior living conditions while in detention, but they also have an impact on receiving countries. Currently, Haiti is facing both political and economic instability as it works to manage the humanitarian crisis, wrought by gasoline shortages that have crippled economic activity in the country.3 Gang activity, including territorial violence, blockaded roads, and restricted travel, has impacted access to basic goods and services such as food and water in some parts of the country. Health facilities in Haiti have been forced to limit their services or shut down. Furthermore, because of the insecurity and social unrest, school closures place additional strain on the education system, stifling the education system.4 Despite Haiti's challenges in supporting its own residents, 43,900 deportees arrived from the Dominican Republic between July and October of 2022 alone.5 [End Page 107]

The present Dominican administration has taken several steps to push Dominicans of Haitian descent out of the country. In 2022, current President Luis Abinader issued Decree 668-22, which establishes a specialized policing unit to investigate foreign-born persons living in the Dominican Republic without documentation.6 The decree effectively allows the expulsion of Haitian descendants from the Dominican Republic.7 Dominican authorities defend these expulsions as being critical to national security and as a legitimate response to present instability in Haiti.8 In practice, such mass deportations involve indiscriminately detaining and expelling Haitian descendants—and people who are perceived as Haitian—from the Dominican Republic to Haiti without due process. In addition, the Dominican government announced in 2022 that public hospitals would no longer treat undocumented migrants, except in cases of emergency.9 Although such statements broadly apply to all undocumented migrants, they are primarily used against undocumented Haitian migrants. Indeed, according to the Dominican government, the country "can no longer carry the burdens of Haiti's problems."10 The Dominican government has also begun building a wall on half of the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.11

In this article, I provide an overview of the history that influences the Dominican government's current anti-Haitian policies. Economic migration from Haiti to the Dominican Republic was originally sanctioned under bilateral agreements that provided Haitian labor to support the growing agricultural industry in the Dominican Republic. However, recent instability in Haiti has led the Dominican Republic to respond with mass deportations and xenophobia. I propose that to foster stability and improve relations in the region, the international community should redefine approaches to humanitarian aid and prioritize community partnerships that elevate the expertise of Haitian leaders.

Citizenship and Anti-Haitian Racism

Anti-Haitian racism is systemic discrimination against people of Haitian descent. A complex set of historical events contribute to contemporary anti-Haitian racism in the D.R. Under colonialism, Hispaniola, the island that Haiti and the Dominican Republic share, was a Spanish colony that increased in geographic importance as the slave trade began to boom during the sixteenth century. In the second half of the seventeenth century, French settlers invaded Hispaniola and colonized the western part of the island, renaming the land "Saint-Domingue." The French brought thousands of enslaved people from Africa to their new colony to support a thriving plantation system anchored on the production of sugar and coffee for the European market. From 1791 to 1804, a thirteen-year slave revolt led by Toussaint L'Ouverture established Haiti as a nation independent from France. Fearing that the French would use Dominican territory to reconquer Haiti, the Haitian and Dominican sides of the island were unified under Haitian rule from 1822 to 1844. Today, some still reference the "Haitian invasion" in the Dominican Republic invoking the fear that, if given too much power, people of Haitian descent will once again reunify the island, taking control of Hispaniola as they did over a century ago. This fear contributes to anti-Haitian policies that limit the power and presence of Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitians living in the D.R.

Present-day mass deportations and expulsions of Haitian descendants are part of a political pattern reflecting the tension between the pull of integrating Haitian labor into the Dominican economy and the push to separate Haitian people from full inclusion in Dominican society.12 In the 1970s and 1980s, the Haitian and Dominican governments established bilateral agreements under which Haitian migrant workers were recruited to the Dominican Republic to perform agricultural labor. Those policies have since lapsed, but the private recruitment of Haitian workers continued over a period of several decades. This recruitment process also involves human traffickers, who use coercion and threats [End Page 108] to funnel desperate Haitian workers to the Dominican Republic.13 Today, many Haitians who were recruited to live and work in the Dominican Republic are older and have children and grandchildren currently living and working in the country. These subsequent generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent are currently impacted by policy changes that retroactively revoked their Dominican citizenship.

Access to Dominican citizenship and documentation are related to efforts that address low birth registration in the country. The Dominican Republic has one of the highest levels of demographic under-registration in Latin America and the Caribbean.14 Across Latin America, an estimated 14 percent of births are unregistered, compared to about 26 percent of births that are unregistered in the Dominican Republic.15 With the emergence of institutionalized social protections in contemporary Latin America, such as the implementation of cash transfer programs, identity documentation and birth registration are increasingly important.16 When the Dominican Republic implemented Solidaridad, the first Dominican conditional cash transfer program, social policy systems created the bureaucratic infrastructure for the Dominican government to determine who would have access to the social welfare benefits associated with Dominican citizenship.17

Differences between policy and practice underscore the tensions that have led to present-day discrimination codified into law.18 Previous policies conferred citizenship to people born in the Dominican Republic. In practice, however, many Dominican civil-registry offices refused to issue birth certificates to children of Haitian migrants. By the 1990s, these discriminatory practices were well-documented.19 In response, Dominican civil society mobilized, pressuring local civil registries to process applications in accordance with the law. However, to further discriminate against people of Haitian descent, Dominican government leaders pushed for the laws to change.

In 2004, the General Law on Migration (la Ley General de Migración No. 285-04) placed increased conditionality on birthright citizenship. From 1929 until 2004, the Dominican Republic conferred birthright citizenship to anyone born on Dominican soil, unless they were "in transit." Following the 2004 General Law on Migration, groups "in transit" included temporary foreign workers, migrants with expired residency visas, migrant workers brought into the country surreptitiously, and people who are unable to prove their lawful residence in the Dominican Republic. Because Haitians comprised the main population of migrant workers recruited for agricultural labor, the new groups in transit included more Haitians than immigrants of other backgrounds. After the reinterpretation of the "in transit" clause, documentation offices intensified the previously unofficial practice of denying birth certificates to children born of Haitian parents, which effectively denationalized Dominicans of Haitian descent.20

In 2007, as mandated by the 2004 General Law on Migration, the Central Electoral Board—the Dominican civil-registry office that provides documentation services—created a foreign registry known as the Book of Foreigners. Registration in the Book of Foreigners offered potential access to a future, unspecified naturalization process, and protection from deportation for two years. However, it did not confer full citizenship benefits, such as the right to vote. The Central Electoral Board also issued guidance known as Resolution 12, which retroactively stripped citizenship from Dominicans of Haitian descent. In addition, when interacting with various institutions, such as primary schools and universities, Dominicans must request their birth certificates from a civil-registry office. Under Resolution 12, civil-registry officers were instructed to stop conferring identity documents to children whose parents could not prove their lawful migration status. Thus, many Dominicans of Haitian descent have had their requests denied.21

In 2010, the Dominican Republic implemented a new constitution that incorporated the added conditions on birthright citizenship established by the General Law on Migration in 2004. According to the new constitution, birthright citizenship no longer applied to the [End Page 109] children of "foreigners in transit or residing illegally in the Dominican territory."22 Moreover, a ruling in 2013 by the Dominican Constitutional Court ordered an audit to strip citizenship from people the government determined should not have been granted Dominican citizenship. This ruling also required that the Dominican government create a plan to provide documentation for migrants with unauthorized legal status.23

In response to the Constitutional Court ruling, the Dominican government under President Danilo Medina established the National Regularization Plan for Foreigners (PNRE) with irregular migration status. The PNRE created a new framework for regularization that included temporary, permanent, and non-immigrant classifications for people with unauthorized status residing in the Dominican Republic. The PNRE also outlined eligibility factors for the future regularization plan, such as length of stay in the country at a fixed address, ties to society, knowledge of spoken and written Spanish, children born in the Dominican Republic, and criminal record.24 However, the PNRE did not specify exactly how people would access this path to regularization, leaving them with a temporary and unstable legal status.

The implementation of these policy changes in a relatively short period has created considerable confusion over who should receive the varying forms of documentation, and which documents protect people of Haitian descent from deportation or expulsion.

Race, Ethnicity, Mass Expulsions and Deportations

Mass expulsions and deportations allow governments to use groups considered "outsiders" as political scapegoats in times of economic crisis or political will-building. In the Dominican Republic, this approach has been taken during several time periods.25 For example, during the 1930s, economies across the globe felt the strain and desperation of the Great Depression. In the Dominican Republic, Haitian immigrants were the scapegoat for Dominican economic instability. Rafael Trujillo, a brutally violent Dominican dictator, used immigration policy and political propaganda to institutionalize anti-Haitian racism by creating a widespread fear of Haitians and perpetuating the belief that they were not trustworthy. Following a national anti-Haitian propaganda campaign, Trujillo ordered the murder of tens of thousands of Haitians at the border. In 1937, between fifteen thousand and twenty thousand Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans were brutally murdered with machetes, bayonets, and clubs.26

More Dominican scapegoating of Haitians took place during the 1990 D.R. presidential election. The Joaquín Balaguer campaign included visits to bateyes, the primarily Haitian communities where many agricultural workers and their families live. Balaguer, Trujillo's political protégé, issued Haitian workers an identification card as part of an effort to manufacture new voters.27 Until then, the voter identification card and the national identification card were separate. In 1992, the Dominican national identification card was updated and would be used both for identification and for voting. This change meant that the Haitian workers given false documents were excluded from voting in future elections. During his presidency, Balaguer also instituted a wave of mass deportations and expulsions from the Dominican Republic to Haiti, primarily impacting people from Haitian migrant worker communities.28

Contemporary expulsions and deportations in the Dominican Republic target people of Haitian descent by using racial profiling tactics that include skin color discrimination, in addition to other approaches, such as harassing people with Haitian-sounding last names, or those who speak Spanish with a foreign accent.29 People of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic confront a combination of racist and anti-immigrant sentiments that impact their everyday lives, and result in policies and practices that perpetuate statelessness, persistent poverty, and generational trauma.

A path forward

The Dominican Republic's present-day response to instability in Haiti is part of a long series of anti-Haitian policies fueled by fear, economic [End Page 110] scarcity, and racism against people of Haitian descent. A functional regularization plan could create clear paths for Haitian migrants and their Dominican-born descendants to acquire legal residence. In 2021, with support from the International Organization for Migration, the Dominican Republic launched a plan to regularize a group of almost one hundred thousand Venezuelan migrants without legal status.30 Although the Dominican government has created a path to regularize legal statuses for Venezuelan migrants, there is little evidence that enough political will exists to do the same for Haitian descendants, given the long history of anti-Haitian racism in the country. In the absence of a clear regularization plan for people of Haitian descent, the Dominican Republic has historically used deportation to control Haitian migration.31 Following a delay in government efforts to regularize the migration status of people of Haitian descent living in the Dominican Republic, an estimated two hundred thousand people became vulnerable to deportation.

In addition to efforts from the Dominican government, the international community must critically examine its role in strengthening stability and partnerships in the Caribbean. For example, international policymakers prioritized legal identity as a core aim of the United Nations's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, but failed to adequately examine how vulnerable populations are impacted when positioned at the center of disputes about race, national identity, and belonging.32 In response to the Sustainable Development Goals, many countries, including the Dominican Republic, implemented governmental reforms to record and address under-registration, but few were attentive to the implications that documentation campaigns could have for marginalized populations. Another collective effort between collaborating countries, the Summit of the Americas in June 2022 resulted in the Los Angeles Declaration on Migration and Protection which was signed by twenty countries across the Western hemisphere, but not by the Dominican Republic.33 This collective statement represents the opportunity for countries in the region to coordinate responses to mass migration movements and displace ment crises.34 Such collaborative efforts present opportunities for the Dominican Republic to strengthen relationships with other countries in the region, including the United States, as nations work together to promote safe and dignified migration and return when appropriate. Lastly, many well-intentioned groups, including international community leaders, have provided foreign aid to Haiti with little accountability for government leaders—which is imperative to ensure long term progress and stability.35

Nevertheless, continued investment in the local Haitian economy, including supporting local Haitian-led businesses, agriculture, and education, can strengthen Haiti's sustainability and support the bilateral relationship between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.36 When responding to humanitarian crises, international organizations can intentionally partner with local community leaders and experts to identify long-term solutions to systemic problems.

Trenita B. Childers

Dr. Trenita Childers is the author of "In Someone Else's Country: Anti-Haitian Racism and Citizenship in the Dominican Republic." She is also a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research and her work focuses on health equity and refugee resettlement in the United States.


1. Garcia, S. In The Dominican Republic, Anti-Blackness Is At The Root Of Violent Deportations Of Haitians. Here's How We Can Help, December 15, 2022.; Ortiz, K. Dominican Republic's treatment of Haitian migrants draws fire, November 23, 2022.

2. U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic. Alert: Ongoing Dominican Migration Enforcement,; Illegality is conferred a racial identity based on the existing racial hierarchy in a given context. In the Dominican Republic, illegality is racialized. as Haitian. Authorities use characteristics associated with Haitians, including having darker skin and a Haitian last name, to police suspected illegality.

3. UN Humanitarian. Seven things to know about the humanitarian crisis in Haiti, October 26, 2022.

4. Pierre-Pierre, G. With school closures, Haiti is losing entire generations, October 24, 2022,

5. CBS Miami. Dominican Republic rejects criticism of Haitian deportations, November 21, 2022,

6. Rechazamos el decreto 668-22 y las deportaciones, November 14, 2022,; Reuters, Dominican Republic steps up Haitian deportations, raising tensions, November 16, 2022,

7. Black Alliance for Peace Statement of Solidarity, November 30, 2022

8. CBS Miami. Dominican Republic rejects criticism of Haitian deportations, November 21, 2022,

9. Presidencia de la República Dominicana, CNM anuncia que estará en sesión permanente y auditará el Plan Nacional de Regularización, November 3, 2022.

10. Medford, K. In the Dominican Republic, Language Barriers Complicate Life for Haitian Migrants, November 17, 2022,

11. Al Jazeera, Dominican Republic begins building border wall with Haiti, February 21, 2022.

12. Bridget Wooding and Richard David Moseley-Williams, Needed but Unwanted: Haitian Immigrants and Their Descendants in the Dominican Republic (London: Catholic Institute for International Relations, 2004).

13. U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic, 2022 Dominican Republic Trafficking in Persons Report,

14. de Kalaf, Eve Hayes. Legal Identity, Race and Belonging in the Dominican Republic: From Citizen to Foreigner. Anthem Press, 2021.

15. Duryea, S., Olgiati, A., Stone, L., The Under-Registration of Births in Latin America,

16. Hunter, W. and Brill, R., "Documents, Please" Advances in Social Protection and Birth Certification in the Developing World.

17. Ibid.

18. David Baluarte, "The Perpetuation of Childhood Statelessness in the Dominican Republic," World's Stateless Children, Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion, 2017,

19. Human Rights Watch, "'Illegal People': Haitians and Dominico-Haitians in the Dominican Republic," April 2002, 14, no. 1 (b),

20. Wooding, B. and Riveros, N. Migración Lab-oral Haitiana hacia República Dominicana: Realidad, Retos y Propuestas hacia una Gobernanza más Efectiva, 2017.

21. Childers, T. In Someone Else's Country: Anti-Haitian Racism and Citizenship in the Dominican Republic, (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2020).

22. Constitución de la Republica Dominicana, January 26, 2010, art. 18[3] [Dom. Rep.].

23. Castillo, M. Some Dominicans suddenly outsiders in their own country, October 24, 2013.

24. República Dominicana, Decreto No. 327-13 de 2013, Plan nacional de regularización de extranjeros en situación migratoria irregular en la República Dominicana [Presidential decree 327-13 of 2013], Dominican Republic (text available online at

25. Wooding, B. and Martínez, S. El antihaitianismo en la República Dominicana: ¿un giro biopolítico?, 2017.

26. Montecelos, M. Race and borders fuelled 1937 Parsley Massacre on Dominican-Haitian frontier, October 2, 2022.

27. Natalia Riveros, Estado de la cuestión de la población de los bateyes dominicanos en relación a la documentación (Santo Domingo, DR: Observatorio Migrantes del Caribe, 2014).

28. Human Rights Watch, "'Illegal People.'" Human Rights Watch, "'Illegal People': Haitians and Dominico-Haitians in the Dominican Republic," April 2002, 14, no. 1 (b),

29. Hu, C. and Dupain, E. Dominican Republic expelled hundreds of children to Haiti without their families this year, November 22, 2022.; Childers, T. In Someone Else's Country: Anti-Haitian Racism and Citizenship in the Dominican Republic, (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2020).

30. IOM UN Migration, Dominican Republic and IOM Help Clear Hurdles for 100,000 Venezuelan Migrants, July 13, 2021.

32. Hayes de Kalaf. E. Legal Identity, Race and Belonging in the Dominican Republic: From Citizen to Foreigner. (London: Anthem Press, 2021).

34. Selee, A. The Los Angeles Declaration Could Represent a Big Step for Real Migration Cooperation across the Americas, June 2022.

35. Abi-Habib, M. Why Haiti Still Despairs After $13 Billion in Foreign Aid, July 8, 2021.

36. Asare, J. G., Dr. Bertrhude Albert Discusses the Current Crisis In the Dominican Republic And Why Darker Skinned People Are Being Targeted, Dec. 19, 2022.