Haitians and other non-citizens stood in long lines across the Dominican Republic on Monday in last-minute bids to secure legal residency, hurrying to beat a looming paperwork deadline along with the threat of possible quick deportation.
Lines snaked outside Interior Ministry offices as foreign residents, who are overwhelmingly from neighboring Haiti, sought to submit papers before a 7 p.m. Wednesday deadline. Many said that the process takes all day and that they have had to return multiple times after being told they lacked sufficient documentation.
"You still have to bring more papers. It's always hard, but we'll see," bricklayer Aime Morette said as he waited with more than 140 other people to submit his application.
Morette, a 28-year-old who has a wife and two children, said he has lived more than half his life in the Dominican Republic, but that doesn't automatically qualify him for legal residency under an initiative begun last year aimed at regulating the migration of workers who have long flowed across the border from Haiti.
Under the program, the government said it would consider granting legal residency to non-citizens who could establish their identity and prove they arrived before October 2011.
Officials estimated up to 500,000 people were in this category, with relatively few able to provide sufficient documentation. Interior Minister Ramon Fadul said about 250,000 people have at least started the application process, but only 10,000 had met all the requirements for legal residency. So far, only about 300 have actually received permits.
Fadul has said anyone who does not register could be deported. While officials have said there will be no mass round-ups, authorities have prepared 12 buses and opened processing centers along the border with Haiti to expedite repatriations.
Partly causing the lack of necessary documentation are employers in the Dominican Republic who do not provide workers with documentation to prove they have been in the country long enough to qualify for residency. Another hurdle is that the Haitian government, which despite pledges to improve the process, has been slow to provide birth certificates and other forms of identification to its citizens, charging more than many people can afford to pay.
The Dominican government launched the program after receiving international criticism of a 2013 ruling by its Supreme Court that people born in the country to non-citizens all the way back to 1929 did not qualify for citizenship, effectively stripping tens of thousands of people of their nationality.
The government has announced that it plans to restore nationality for more than 50,000 people who were born in the country and enrolled in a civil registry.
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.
Yet, Army Gen. Ruben Paulino said his agency, with help from the military, will begin patrolling neighborhoods with large numbers of migrants Thursday, following the deadline, contradicting Fadul's statement saying there would be no mass deportations or sweeps.
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.