“Are you Haitian?” That’s the question the Dominican consular officer in New York City asked of Dan-el Padilla Peralta, a Dominican writer living in New York who describes himself as “dark-skinned and nappy-headed,” when he recently tried to renew his passport. Padilla, who eventually did get his renewal, writes about his experience in The Guardian. Having managed to break out of the stifling US immigration system (which he writes about in Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey from a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League, published tomorrow), Padilla says that it has “been dismaying to see the Dominican government adopt a similar approach to immigration while making use of American border-policing expertise.”
Padilla is referring to a series of recent actions taken by the Dominican Republic that make life miserable for the hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent: revocation of their citizenship; a June 17 deadline for leaving the country if they couldn’t prove they were born in the DR; and the threat of mass deportation.
In mid-June, on the eve of that deadline, there was almost no coverage at all in the US media of the impending expulsion, apart from an excellent essay by Rachel Nolan in Harper’s Magazine. Then Arian Terrill, who works with an aid organization in poor urban Dominican communities, contacted the The Nation to report on increased police and military harassment of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent. The Nation posted Terrill’s observation and offered to put US reporters in touch with him. The post circulated widely and many journalist responded, jumpstarting the coverage. Here’s Terrill’s follow-up:
As the online machine picked up after the original post, I got information out through the Daily Kos, Jet magazine, RYOT and a few others. The mainstream media soon caught on, and I started giving interviews on background to reporters from The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. Couldn’t get to everyone, though. As the registration deadline hit on June 17, big outfits started sending teams down over the second half of June, and I ended up taking a number of crews out to neighborhoods where I work and live in Santo Domingo and Puerto Plata. Vice’s crew was pretty good, if a bit sensational. Al-Jazeera’s folks were quite professional. The piece that I’m proudest of, though, was an A1 front page article in The New York Times on Saturday, July 4, that did a more in-depth look at my multi-ethnic neighborhood in Puerto Plata and the complexities of relationships and sentiments at the community level. Their Bureau Chief and a photographer spent an entire week with me.
So, where are we now? The mass detentions and deportations that the government had threatened have thankfully not yet come to pass. Although it is of course impossible to measure a counterfactual, I would like to think that our efforts made some small contribution in stirring up the international attention enough to put the authorities on notice that they were being closely watched. Whatever the case, the worst-case scenario has been staved off, at least for now.