Dajabón, Dominican Republic—The sticky, humid air in the offices of Solidaridad Fronteriza (SF), an advocacy organization in the bustling Dominican border city of Dajabón, was thick with stress. As a bilingual (Spanish-Creole) social worker turned to help the next client, a 30-something woman whose face twitched involuntarily as she held her child, the woman exploded in a rat-tat-tat of questions in Creole. “Eske y’ap voye pitit mwen Ayiti? Ou kaede’m ? Kisa’m ka fè kounyè a?” (Will they send my child to Haiti? Can you help me? What can I do now?)
In a calming tone, the social worker tried to comfort the woman, to no avail. After a couple of minutes of talking in the lobby, the woman rushed off, dejected that she could find no immediate relief.
Like all her colleagues at SF, the social worker was visibly stressed after more than two weeks of dealing with dozens upon dozens of similar situations: immigrant Haitians desperately trying to obtain from the Dominican or Haitian governments the documents that they now need to stay in their homes; Haitians with family members whose homes were raided and who were deported; Haitians united by the two central facts of their lives now: the possibility that their Dominican Republic–born children’s citizenship will be stripped, and the imminent possibility that they will be deported en masse.
In recent days, the sound of Creole in the streets of the Dominican Republic’s hamlets, towns, and cities has largely been silenced. Many immigrants have opted to stay home, leaving their workplaces in the informal and agricultural economy without workers, who fear that the United States–trained Dominican military and border patrol (CESFRONT) will begin mass arrests of Haitians—put them on buses and unload them in mass detention camps before deporting them, as the government has promised. Dajabón, the usually loud border city where the crush of struggling, entrepreneurial blackness erases the boundary between Haiti and the DR, has fallen under the reign of traumatic silence that’s taking hold throughout the country.
On the immediate level, what’s pushing Haitians into hiding and silence is the intensification of abuses by the military and CESFRONT that have accompanied the deportation crisis. SF and a host of other national and international organizations have documented such abuses in Dajabón and across the country. There have been reports of bribery for the processing of documents, of the rape of Haitian women left vulnerable by the process, of houses invaded and property stolen as children and family watch in terror, and of beatings delivered to those who complain about unfair treatment at processing centers. One of the most common complaints, however, is that officials in both the Dominican and Haitian governments have lost or never delivered the documents people need to prove their citizenship. And like their main patron, the US government, the military and CESFRONT have for some time aggressively pursued immigrants in raids and arrests that are less spectacular than the now-promised mass deportations, but that are equally destructive to families and lives. Between last January, when the government launched Operación Escudo (Operation Shield), and March of this year, 40,000 Haitians were detained in and around Dajabón and other border communities, according to the Dominican military.