DAJABON, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC -- Some 600 Haitians, the majority of them illegal immigrants, occupied a church in the northwestern border province of Dajabon to demand that they be allowed to return to the Dominican Republic after traveling to Haiti for Christmas.
Father Regino Martinez, coordinator of the non-governmental organization Border Solidarity and a supporter of the church occupation, told the press Monday that the Haitians traveled home to visit their families over the holidays.
The Haitians who occupied Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church worked in the Dominican farming and construction industries.
Immigration and border security officials in the northern Dominican Republic told the press that they allowed the return of 700 Haitians who traveled home last month and had permission to go back to the Dominican Republic.
The 600 Haitians who are occupying the church, however, do not have documents and must be repatriated, officials said.
Father Martinez, for his part, said many of the protesters belonged to the Association of Haitian Migrant Farmworkers, a group based in the northwestern Dominican Republic.
On Dec. 18, Martinez, other Border Solidarity members and Jesuit Refugee Service representatives met with immigration service director Jose Anibal Sanz Jiminian and advised him that 1,696 Haitian workers planned to travel home for the holidays and return in January.
Dominican officials estimate that around 1 million Haitians live in the country, most of them illegal immigrants who work in agriculture and construction.
The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, with Haiti in the western portion. Though both countries are poor, Haiti is destitute, and Haitians cross the border to do work that many Dominicans will not do, such as harvesting sugar cane.
Haitians have been the target of mob violence numerous times in recent years, and the Dominican government has carried out mass expulsions of illegal immigrants.