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OPINION

The other country building a border wall

Haiti’s severe political crisis and raging gang violence are forcing an exodus of Haitians. And what’s the response from the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s only land neighbor? Build a wall.

Workers build a border wall in the Dominican Republic to stop the flow of migrants fleeing Haiti.Tatiana Fernndez Geara/Photographer: Tatiana Fernndez G

The idea of a sovereign nation erecting a border wall to keep invaders out (or its citizens in) is certainly not novel. So it shouldn’t be surprising that former President Donald Trump’s outlandish and controversial proposal to build a wall alongside the 2,000-mile border with Mexico in order to curb illegal immigration and drug smuggling — and then have Mexico pay for the wall — has found copycats outside the United States.

Just look at what’s playing out in Hispaniola, the Caribbean island that the Dominican Republic and Haiti share, divided by a 244-mile border. There’s a history of tensions between the two neighboring countries. And now, Dominican politicians have resorted to Trump-like measures to control the flow of Haitians coming in. Luis Abinader, the Dominican president, announced the construction of a border wall with Haiti just months after taking office two years ago.

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At a time of immense turmoil in Haiti, it feels particularly cruel for the Dominican Republic to begin construction of a wall. Where’s the international outrage?

Haiti, a persistently weak and poor nation, is even more chaotic and miserable right now. Looters stealing food for children. Gangs kidnapping people indiscriminately and routinely. A level of violence so unprecedented that Haitians don’t want to leave their homes.

That’s the general context behind the exodus of tens of thousands of Haitians. The assassination of President Jovenel Moïse in July 2021 and a disastrous earthquake one month later deepened the unrest. Abinader told the Organization of American States earlier this month that Haiti’s status quo “could be defined as a low-intensity civil war.” The Miami Herald editorial board highlighted a term that Haitians prefer: their nation is undergoing a “Somalization,” a parallel with Somalia and how decades ago it became a failed state that was ruled by different factions. Haitians are hungry, fearful, and poor — what choice do they have but to leave their homeland in order to survive?

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Many Haitians have migrated to their neighboring country or travel between the two countries for work opportunities. Between 500,000 and one million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, where they work in critical sectors like agriculture and construction. More than 90 percent of workers in the Dominican Republic’s agricultural industry are foreigners and the majority of them are Haitians, according to the Haitian Times.

The first phase of the border wall construction began in February in Dajabón, a municipality located on the northwestern Dominican border with Haiti. Once completed, the wall will stand 13-feet tall and cover 102 miles of the border that divides the two nations. Dominican officials argue that the wall is needed to protect their economy, which is one of the healthiest in Latin America. The Dominican minister of the interior and police, during a June visit to oversee the building of the wall, said that Haiti is the main threat to the Dominican Republic. Santiago Riverón, the mayor of Dajabón, told Bloomberg recently that “[t]here are simply too many Haitians here.” He said Haitians are putting a strain on local hospitals, throwing trash on the streets, and keeping wages down for Dominicans.

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Doesn’t that rhetoric sound familiar?

Incidentally, when he was running for president, Abinader hired a close Trump confidante and emissary as campaign consultant: Rudy Giuliani.

The wall project is how “the global rise in anti-Blackness and anti-immigrant sentiment is manifesting in the Dominican Republic,” said Saudi García, a Black Caribbean immigrant originally from the Dominican Republic who is an assistant professor of anthropology at the New School in New York. That border is already very secure, she said, with multiple checkpoints to inspect and detain noncitizens. “The wall is a waste of money.”

García said that, among other policy initiatives, the Dominican government should instead push “the governments of France and the US to do a reparations package for Haiti.” She is referring to the recent bombshell New York Times investigation that traced the root of Haiti’s misery to its former French colonizers and slave masters who demanded payment from Haiti in exchange for its independence and freedom in the 20th century.

The Dominican government has every right to build as tall a border wall as it chooses or to respond to increased migration flows. But that doesn’t make it sound policy. Let’s be clear: What’s behind the move to build a wall to keep Haitians out is profound xenophobia, in the same vein as Trump’s Mexico wall. These walls are not effective, nor are they about national security — instead they only stand as symbols of racial oppression.

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Consider the Dominican border wall yet another shameful Trump export, another part of his legacy of hateful, anti-immigrant policy. Haitians are desperate and their Dominican neighbors respond by effectively shutting the door on them.


Marcela García is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at marcela.garcia@globe.com. Follow her @marcela_elisa and on Instagram @marcela_elisa.