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New Yorkers march against Dominican Republic’s racist deportation plan

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by Ashoka Jegroo

The Black Lives Matter activists marched from the Bronx to Manhattan for Haitians being deported from the Dominican Republic on June 20. (WNV/Ashoka Jegroo)

Black Lives Matter protesters rallied and marched in the Bronx on June 20 to show their solidarity with Dominicans of Haitian descent, who are now being deported from the Dominican Republic.

Currently, the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, is in the process of deporting more than 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent due to a September 2013 ruling by the country’s Constitutional Tribunal, stating that people born to undocumented immigrants after 1929 are not entitled to Dominican citizenship. After much scrutiny, the Dominican Republic passed Ley de Régimen Especial y Naturalización 169-14, or Law 169-14, which allows people with documented proof that they were born in the Dominican Republic between 1929 and 2007 to qualify for citizenship. But this has done little to help most of the Haitian-Dominicans facing deportation since many of them are too poor or were actively prevented from registering their births during those years, and the law only applies to Haitian-Dominicans whose parents had formal status as migrants. Now that the deadline to apply for residency permits has passed and deportations have resumed, many Haitian-Dominicans have gone into hiding.

“A country can’t just strip people retroactively of their citizenship like the Dominican Republic is doing by stripping people of their citizenship going back to 1929,” said Alexis Francisco, one of the organizers of the Black Lives Matter protest in the Bronx. “There’s some people that were born there, grew up there. They don’t know Haiti. That would be like if the United States suddenly decided that my little sister, who has been here her whole life, is not American, that she’s Dominican.”

New Yorkers, many of them Dominicans, had also protested on June 17 outside of the Dominican embassy in Times Square. Haitian-Dominicans themselves protested the deportations on June 19 in the Dominican Republic’s capital, Santo Domingo.

The June 20 action in the Bronx began at noon on Webster Avenue and Fordham Road. Local politicians, activists, youth groups and local clergy spoke at the rally against what they call a “racist” policy against Dominicans of Haitian descent and announced their demands to the Dominican government.

Shortly after the rally began, a smaller group of Dominican nationalist counter-protesters arrived waving Dominican flags and shouting “Lies!” at the Black Lives Matter rally’s speakers.

“We’ve created this organization based on all the slanders, lies, and smearing campaigns that they have created,” said Joaquin Pimentel, an organizer of the counter-protest and member of the Dominican Advocacy Coalition.  “They’re calling us racists, that we’re anti-black, that we’re doing an ethnic cleansing. None of that is true. We’re here to defend ourselves. We’re here to defend our Dominican community. We’re here to defend the Dominican Republic here in New York City.”

The counter-protesters said that the deportations have nothing to do with race and are more about securing borders, enforcing the law, and preventing the already-impoverished Dominican Republic from shouldering the burden of immigrants from Haiti.

“Every country has a right to sovereignty and a right to defend its borders,” Pimental said. “The Dominican Republic is not the wealthiest country in the world. It’s hard enough for us to take care of our own. It’s even harder to try to take on the problems of the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.”

The Black Lives Matter protesters, on the other hand, insist that, along with the economic and political motivations, the deportations are driven by racism.

“The reason these migrants are in the country in the first place is because they’re being brought over there to do the work that nobody wants to do, and they’re being paid nothing,” Francisco said, comparing the situation to the way Latino migrants are treated in the United States.

After the rally in the Bronx, the counter-protesters vowed to return to any further actions. The Black Lives Matter protesters, on the other hand, then chanted and marched from the Bronx to 181st street in Washington Heights in Manhattan, a neighborhood known for it’s large Dominican community.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gave a speech the next day condemning the deportations as “illegal,” “immoral” and “racist.” De Blasio also said that the deportations were happening “because these people are black.” Unlike the Black Lives Matter protesters in the Bronx, though, de Blasio doesn’t seem to see the connection between systemic racism in the Dominican Republic and the systemic racism in New York City and the United States in general.

“We also do a lot of work out here in the Bronx around police violence on black and brown bodies, and we’re seeing this happening over there,” Francisco said. “It’s the same struggle. The same way that black people are scapegoated and blamed for the problems of society. Black lives matter here in the Bronx, in the Dominican Republic, in Ferguson, in South Carolina and everywhere else.”

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