More than 200 people marched from Boston City Hall to the Boston consulate of the Dominican Republic on Thursday afternoon in protest of the Dominican Republic's immigration policy that critics say is creating a humanitarian crisis for Haiti. Marchers waved Haitian national flags, held signs that read “Stand Up for Human Rights” or “Don’t Travel to Dominican Republic,” and chanted “no more deportations in DR” and “one island, one people.”
Tens of thousands of people have left the Domincan Republic in recent weeks as a deadline looms for the enforcement of a 2013 Dominican law that could leave hundreds of thousands of people with Haitian roots— many of them born in the DR— without citizenship or status to stay in the country. Dominican officials have defended the action, blaming the Haitian government for failing to document its own citizens. But Haiti— backed by many of its neighboring Caribbean countries— say that the Dominican government is ignoring international norms governing migrants and that the massive departure of so many people will cause hardship and crisis on their side of the border.
Marie Yola, 26 a marcher from Cambridge who is also third-generation Haitian-American, drew a hypothetical American scenario to highlight its flaws.
“I was born in 1988 in America, but my father was born in Haiti. Imagine if Barak Obama said, ‘Oh, all Haitians have to go home if they were born after 1928.’ I have no ties to Haiti, other than extended family. My career is here, my life is here,” she said.
Rodline Louijeune, a legal fellow at the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), attended the march. She recently returned from observing the situation along the Haiti-DR border.
“Boston has a very strong, very active Haitian-American community, so this is where Haitian-Americans and Haitian immigrants can really affect some change.” she said. “I think marches like these are critically important for the civic community. This is a tool for people to express their discontent with this legislation.”
Louijene, 26, is the child of Haitian immigrants and drew on the commonality between Haitians who immigrate to the U.S. and those who go to the DR.
“Not only do we share a common ancestry with these Dominicans and Haitian Dominicans in the DR, but we also share a similar story where we, or for me my parents, immigrated here in search of a better opportunity, just like many Haitian go to the Dominican Republic in search of a better opportunity,” she said.
When the marchers arrived at the consulate, they were met by a counter-protest across the street, with protesters waving Dominican flags and held signs that read “Haiti Don’t Tell Lies.”
Mark Abelard, a Roxbury resident, was one of the marchers who supported the Haiti position.
“It’s less about the Haitian people and more about the ills that the Dominican government seeds within itself. It’s self-hatred, they’re using the Haitian people as a backdrop for their own social ills,” he said.
Abelard, who is also of Haitian descent, strongly supports a tourism boycott of the Dominican Republic, a popular response among critics of the Dominican government.