There was an intense standoff in downtown Boston yesterday between members of the city’s sizable Haitian American and Dominican American communities. Both groups gathered outside the Park Plaza Hotel, near the entrance to the Dominican Consulate, waving flags and hoisting signs as a watchful contingent of Boston police looked on.
The protesters’ grievances go far beyond Boston. Recently, the Dominican Republic stripped citizenship from some 200,000 residents of Haitian descent—and it’s threatening to deport those who don’t register as foreigners.
In fact, some international observers say deportations have already begun, and that people who should be allowed to remain in the Dominican Republic are being forced out.
Wesley Laine is a legal fellow at Dorchester’s Institute forJustice and Democracy in Haiti. He just returned from a fact-finding trip to the Dominican-Haitian border—and says that while the people he spoke with hadn’t been formally deported, they were fleeing under duress.
“The clients I interviewed really spoke to me about persecution, having to leave their homes, seeing their homes being burned down,” Laine said. “Being harassed by soldiers, being harassed by policemen, even being harassed by their neighbors.
“You’re running for your life—you cannot stay,” Laine added. “Is it voluntary if you cannot stay, if you have to leave? That’s the gray area here. Because the DR is saying that these people are voluntarily leaving. But that’s not the sense I got at all. Most of them told me they had to go.”
For the hundred-plus Haitian Americans who marched from Boston City Hall to the Dominican Consulate Thursday, there was no gray area at all: the Dominican government is the villain. In the crowd’s midst: Linda Dorcena Forry, the influential state senator.
“Eighty years of these folks being born and rasied in Dominican Republican, speaking Spanish, having no connection to Haiti,” Dorcena Forry says. “Saying: ‘You know what? We’re gonna rethink that. You’re not a Haitian citizen.’ That is wrong. That is fundamentally wrong.”
But the Dominican counter-protesters who met them outside the Park Plaza insisted that their homeland is being unfairly maligned.
“Our country [has] the right to their own constitution,” said Jamaica Plain resident Julio Pena. “Our constitution [says], to be a Dominican citizen, you have to be born there—from a legal parent.”
The Dominican contingent was also irate with Massachusetts politicians who’ve spoken out against the Dominican Republic—including Dorcena Forry and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, both of whom have urged a travel boycott.
“Marty Walsh, he has to go outside and say he’s sorry to the Dominican community,” said Ezekiel Diaz, also of Jamaica Plain. “The community that supported him, very [decisively] in the last election.”
Harsh words, to be sure. But not nearly as harsh as what’s happening in the Dominican Republic right now.