By JACOB KUSHNER and DANICA COTO, Associated Press
JIMANI, Dominican Republic – The Dominican Republic has deported thousands of illegal immigrants in recent weeks, sowing fear among Haitians living in the country and prompting accusations its government is using a cholera outbreak as a pretext for a crackdown.
In the largest campaign in years to target Haitians living illegally in the Dominican Republic, soldiers and immigration agents have been setting up checkpoints and conducting neighborhood sweeps, detaining anyone without papers and booting them from the country.
Erickner Auguesten, a 36-year-old father of three who has been in the Dominican Republic illegally since 1991, said agents stopped him as he exited a hospital where his pregnant wife was getting a checkup.
“When we left to get some food, the police pulled up and told me to get into the truck,” he told The Associated Press in the border town of Jimani. He said a friend who works for the border patrol helped him sneak back in.
Hundreds of thousands of Haitians live at least part-time in the Dominican Republic, enduring frequent discrimination and the constant fear of being deported. A cholera epidemic in Haiti that has killed at least 4,000 people and sickened 200,000 has made matters worse.
Dominican officials eased border controls and halted deportations for humanitarian reasons after the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake near Port-au-Prince that killed an estimated 316,000 people and devastated the already impoverished nation. But right at the one-year anniversary of the quake, the deportations resumed — with greater enforcement than has been seen since 2005.
More than 3,000 people have been handcuffed and sent across the border in the past three weeks, including some legal residents who were simply caught without their documents, according to migrants and advocates.