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Citing Abuse, Haitian Immigrants Flee Dominican Republic


This week marked a deadline for immigrants in the Dominican Republic. If they lack identity papers and fail to prove they've begun the process to obtain them, they can be expelled. The vast majority of those at risk are Haitians or Dominicans of Haitian descent and advocates worry that tens of thousands of people could be forced out. Peter Granitz traveled to Haiti's central border with the DR and found some who are leaving on their own.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: The border crossing between Malpasse, Haiti and Jimani, on the Dominican side of the border, is always hectic. It's hot, dusty and noisy. Mototaxis, semitrucks and men pushing wheelbarrows compete for the same stretch of gravelly road, funneling from countless lanes into one to pass through the final gate. Today is market day. Two days a week, people from both countries can cross the international line to buy and sell goods. It looks nearly the same as it always does, except there are a few trucks idling away from the bustle - trucks loaded with furniture, bags of clothes and people. Jasmine Sylvestre is one of them. She's sitting in the cab of the truck with an infant in her lap and two adults on the bench. She says she left her adopted home in the DR early this morning.

JASMINE SYLVESTRE: (Through interpreter) We didn't see anyone in the neighborhood, everybody left. Most of them took the back roads. They didn't take the main route. If they took this road, it would be a lot more people.

GRANITZ: The deadline to comply with the Dominican Republic's immigration law was Wednesday. Sylvestre says she started the naturalization process, but decided to leave anyway to salvage what she could. The truck is loaded with her belongings and the chairs, tables and clothes of others leaving, too. Many of those leaving the DR complain of intimidation. They share stories of tigele, the Creole word used by Haitians living in the DR, meaning bandit. Some who have left have taken refuge at a school near Malpasse, including 53-year-old Andre Joseph. He's got a gash on his foot - a farm accident. He says tigele, some dressed in military clothes, swept into his town in the middle of the night, threatening violence and deportation. He and his wife fled, running through farm fields. They spent the first night away, outside. He left everything behind.

ANDRE JOSEPH: (Foreign language spoken).

GRANITZ: Joseph - who looks weathered, much older than his 53 years - says he left Haiti with his parents, as a child. His parents died in the DR and he assumed he would, too. He's never had Dominican citizenship. This is his first time back in Haiti since he left, decades earlier.

JOSEPH: (Foreign language spoken).

GRANITZ: A network of Jesuits helped Joseph slip into Haiti. Like Joseph, Myrlenen Monine says she, too, was intimidated by thugs in the night. She was so scared, she walked to the immigration office and volunteered to leave. After six hours of waiting, she was put in a truck and sent to Malpasse. She's about 20-years-old with a child and has lived in the DR for 16 years.

MYRLENEN MONINE: (Through interpreter) I don't have the papers. The time was never right for me to get them, and many people told us the papers weren't good anyway.

GRANITZ: The Haitian government has announced it's planning to welcome 30,000 deportees. What services they'll receive and where they'll go isn't yet known. Until then, many plan on staying near the border. For NPR News, I'm Peter Granitz in Port-au-Prince. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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