While they march in our streets demanding we legalize them and more freebies, this is how the DR treats illegal immigration (of Haitians), boggles the mind, don't it? Every country has the right to protect its borders and deport illegal aliens, including the US.

Haitian Refugees Test Dominicans' HospitalityUpdated: 51 minutes ago
Print Text Size E-mail MoreMeredith Mandell
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Feb. 17) -- Willie José, 26, speaks perfect Dominican Spanish, has a Latin-sounding last name and dresses stylishly like many Dominican men in tight blue jeans, a bright red T-shirt and a white cap bent inward to frame his face.

But his heritage lies across the border, where style -- and the good life -- are for the rich and powerful only.

José was born Haitian. His native country was already in bad shape when his family took him across the border as a child decades ago. Now, after the earthquake, he says he'll never go back and live in that devastated land.

"There's nothing for me there now," he said.

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Willie Jose was born in Haiti but has lived in the Dominican Republic for years. He has no intention of ever going back.
And therein lies another chapter of Haiti's unfolding tragedy. Its neighbor on the shared island of Hispaniola, the Dominican Republic, has long given hope and stability to immigrants like José. They have responded by doing the Dominican Republic's dirty and unwanted jobs -- the vegetable picking and the janitorial cleanups -- just as immigrants do in many countries.

But the numerous Haitians now following in their footsteps are getting an increasingly chilly reception as they overwhelm the Dominican Republic's services and test its good will.

José works, as many Haitians do, as a construction laborer so he can support his wife and two children who live back in Port -au-Prince, close to grandparents and other loved ones. Luckily, he said, no one in his immediate family was hurt during the Jan. 12 earthquake.

José and a friend sat in Santo Domingo waiting for a bus to the Haitian border so they could visit with their families, but not to stay. "We are here so we can do work," he said. "There [in Haiti] there aren't that many possibilities, and we have a much better chance to better our lives and our families' lives here."

For new refugees, that may no longer be the case. Dominicans, wrestling with recession, were already concerned in recent years about illegal immigration of Haitians; now it's really out in the open.

Mark Dye for AOL
Jacob Francois, a Haitian who fled to the Dominic Republic after the earthquake, is unemployed and says he does not know how he will support his family.
"It's been said for some time that Haitians put pressure on social services and, were there to be a proper regulation where the rule and procedure were drawn up, it would be much easier to make them pay taxes," said Bridget Wooding, a researcher who studies immigration at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Santo Domingo.

But fears that Haitians are "stealing Dominican jobs" don't make sense, she said. "Dominicans out-migrate to lower jobs in Spain and Puerto Rico, leaving considerable space for migrants to come in and take those jobs," Wooding said. In fact, she added, there's been a demographic crisis in rural areas, where the average age of Dominican cocoa farmers is now 62.

For a century, Haitians have been taking low-wage jobs such as cutting sugar cane. In the mid-1980s, the Dominican government even contracted tens of thousands of Haitian migrant workers for the annual harvesting of sugar cane, rice, coffee and cocoa.

But Haitians also have crossed the border illegally and end up selling cheap items like sunglasses or candy on urban streets.

The net result: Some estimates are that more than a million Haitians -- roughly one-ninth of the total population -- live illegally in the Dominican Republic.

As pressure has mounted on the Dominican government to crack down on illegal immigration, Haitians face "a sort of de facto discrimination," Wooding said. In some cases, she said, government officials refuse to give children of Haitian-born immigrants identity cards or full abstracts of their birth certificates, so "they can't engage in normal civil transactions [like] getting married, getting a passport or opening a bank account."

Dominican President Leonel Fernandez recently signed into law an exclusionary clause in the country's new constitution, which took effect. Jan. 26. The law says that any child born to illegal migrants is not able to become a citizen of the Dominican Republic.

"The hospitals are totally full with Haitians with amputations and arms in casts. They don't have a future and they don't have a home to return to in their country," said Dominican hairstylist Anetty El Cantara, 32. She said the many Haitians who crowd the streets selling cheap goods are driving Dominican stores out of business.

"One of the major problems is that they can put a sweets stand in front of your house, for example, and a week later there's a million of them," she said.

Haitian refugee Jacob Francois, 40, acknowledged the problem that Haitians are willing to do jobs for less pay than Dominicans will accept. "That's where the tension is created," he said as he ate a typical Dominican dinner of chicken, rice and beans at a roadside café outside Santiago.

Francois, who's unemployed, worries about how he's going to support his wife and five children, who came to Santiago as earthquake refugees a few weeks ago. "Unemployment is already high. It's difficult to find a job. ... I tried to go the Haitian Embassy, but there is nothing available right now," he said.

Francois' identification card, hanging on his neck, identifies him as a "chaplain of the state." He said in that capacity he tries to bail out the many Haitians he says have been indiscriminately thrown into Dominican jails.

"A lot of Haitians are in prison. The situation is not good," he said. "They arrest you like you are selling drugs, and you have nothing to do with that."

Mark Dye for AOL
Anetty El Cantara, a Dominican hairstylist, says she has a lot of sympathy for the Haitian people, but she does not think the large influx of Haitians is good for the Dominican Republic.
But Frank Olivares, a spokesman for office of the President Fernandez, said those allegations are false.

"Every person who's processed for drug dealing or drug trafficking is treated the same in the terms of the law; their nationality doesn't matter," he said. "Those are false accusations to the Dominican Republic in a moment where it is clear that our solidarity and spirit to help has exceeded our capabilities."

Olivares also pointed out that the Dominican Republic was the first country to get aid across the border after the quake and has since sent dozens of doctors and public health officers along with military convoys filled with food and water. The government also is helping the Haitian government restore electricity and communications, he said.

At the same time, Olivares added, the Dominican government has pragmatically tightened border security against the expectation of even more refugees.

"We are taking every measure possible not to have illegal immigration from Haiti," he said. As far as refugees who enter the country for medical services, he said, "They are not going to walk out of the hospital and be at will. If they don't have papers, they will have to go back to Haiti or to a refugee camp."

Elaine Jimenez, 30, a secretary for the police in Santo Domingo, said the issue is complicated by the genuine sympathy Dominicans feel toward the Haitian people. "It's really difficult; there's always been a Haitian-Dominican conflict, and the government does nothing," she said. "Just as we want to go to the United States to find a new life, here the Haitians invade our country."
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