SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — Authorities are prepared to resume deporting non-citizens without legal residency in the Dominican Republic after largely putting the practice on hold for a year, the head of the country's immigration agency said Tuesday.
Army Gen. Ruben Paulino said his agency, with help from the military, will begin patrolling neighborhoods with large numbers of migrants Thursday, following the expiration of a deadline for non-citizens without legal residency to register to adjust their status under an initiative begun last year.
"If they aren't registered, they will be repatriated," Paulino said.
His remarks seemed to contradict a statement from Interior Minister Ramon Fadul, who had said there would be no mass deportations or sweeps when the deadline for registration expired Wednesday evening.
Paulino, however, said that his agency has 12 buses, seven light trucks and two ambulances ready for migration patrols and that agents and soldiers have been given additional training in human rights in preparation for deportation operations.
For decades, the Dominican Republic has deported non-citizens, the vast majority of whom come from neighboring Haiti to work in low-wage jobs, often in construction and agriculture and as maids and gardeners. The two countries, which share a porous border and the island of Hispaniola, have long had tense, and at times hostile, relations.
Last year, the Dominican government said non-citizens could gain legal residency if they could prove they had been in the country prior to 2011. The initiative came amid international outcry over a court ruling that denied citizenship claims to people born in Dominican Republic to non-citizens, effectively rendering them stateless. It was also accompanied by criticism of the overall treatment of people from Haiti, or of Haitian descent.
Since the registration period opened in June 2014, the government has largely suspended deportations. Fadul said about 250,000 people have applied for legal residency, but only about 10,000 have been able to provide sufficient documentation of their identity and residence in the country for the required length of time.
The interior minister has said there are an estimated 500,000 people who could have applied, including many who have been in the country for decades despite their lack of documentation.
Anyone who has applied for legal residency receives a temporary permit that will spare them from deportation while their case is evaluated. Over the past year, only about 300 people have received permanent residency papers.
Separately, the government has said it will grant citizenship to about 53,000 people who were born in the Dominican Republic but who were deemed ineligible for citizenship by the Supreme Court ruling in 2013. The people in that category have not yet received their residency documents, either.