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In Photos: A Community in the Crosshairs of the Dominican Republic's Naturalization Law

In the eastern outskirts of Santo Domingo, is a community of mostly Haitian descent. Founded as a camp for Haitian sugar cane workers, it is now marred in poverty and neglect.

by Eric Fernandez
Jun 19 2015, 10:00pm

Photos by Christopher Gregory

On the far eastern edge of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, lies a concentration of bateyes, or sugar cane cutting communities. But many of these communities no longer cut sugar cane, as the plantations, particularly those close to the capital, have been shut down, and the communities have effectively become dilapidated shantytowns. The vast majority of these communities are made up of Haitian migrants or Dominican-Haitians, many who have found themselves in the crosshairs of the country's new naturalization law.

A 2013 ruling by the Dominican Republic's top court rendered hundreds of thousands of Dominican-Haitians in the country effectively stateless by revoking their citizenship. After an outcry from the international community, the Dominican government passed a law allowing residents a pathway to naturalization. The deadline for those registering for naturalization at government bureaus around the country was Wednesday.

The day after the June 17 deadline, residents of Batey Naranjo, in the San Luis municipality of Santo Domingo, were confused, concerned, and sometimes confident over their status and future in the country.

Batey Naranjo's 4,000 residents live in abject poverty, as Hurricane George in 1998 wiped much of the sugar cane fields and infrastructure, leaving many of the community's Haitian migrants without work. Some younger residents were born in the Dominican Republic to migrant parents, and it has never crossed their mind that they are not rightful citizens.

Related: Citizenship Limbo for Dominican Haitians: Dominican Deadlock (Dispatch 2)

Abigail Polanco, 13.

One young man named Luis Miguel said that he was forced to stop going to school in 8th grade because he was born to migrant parents who did not secure his documents after his birth. Cases like Miguel's are among the most controversial under the country's new law.

Miguel said that he is concerned over his future as a Dominican-Haitian, but that he plans on staying in or near his home. He told VICE News that he's well aware that if he does come into contact with immigration authorities, he will likely be detained and expelled to Haiti — a place he's never been and knows nothing about.

Ana, 8 years old.

Other residents showed more confusion over the new law, rather then concern or fear of being deported. Lilena, a mother of seven, told VICE News with confidence that she will get around the new law by having her husband and other family members begin registering her children as if they were their own — seemingly unaware the deadline to do this has passed.

There is a long history of migrants traveling to the Dominican Republic to work in the sugar cane fields, sometimes voluntarily to seek a better way of life, but more often brought over by private Dominican companies as cheap labor.

Luis Miguel, 18, who despite being a rightful citizen has not registered with the government and could face deportation.

As Celina Tolentino Torres, a community leader and migrant worker herself, led VICE News around the Batey for the afternoon, she made an analogy to the way sugar cane is prepared, which involves squeezing the juice from the crop, saying that's what the Dominican government is doing to Dominican-Haitian migrant workers, with both their pensions as well as their rights to citizenship. She managed to acquire her residency card for herself and for her kids, but considers the country's new naturalization law to be racist.

Community leader Celina "Nununa" Tolentino Rosario, 54. 

It doesn't appear likely that mass roundups will occur immediately, and many say the Dominican authorities will be very careful about doing anything that could be perceived as drastic. Jose Ramon Fadul, the Minister of the Interior and Police, addressed the country on Thursday, saying he hopes that the law will be remembered as being about naturalization, not repatriation. Still, all necessary infrastructure is in place to carry out a campaign of mass deportation, including detention and repatriation camps, biometric technology, personnel from the Dominican armed forces, and passenger buses commissioned by the government.

Former sugar cane fields. Sugar cane in the Dominican Republic suffered a steady decline over the 1980s and 90s, but the fields decimated during Hurricane Georges in 1998, and never replanted.

The smokestack of the former sugar refinery. 

Photos by Christopher Gregory

Related: Raw Coverage From the Dominican Republic

This story was produced with support from LG as part of the Photos from Beyond program-click to see more photos from this series. VICE News maintains all editorial independence in the production of this content.