SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – Authorities plan to relocate soldiers and their families to border communities that are home to thousands of illegal Haitian immigrants and increasingly fewer Dominicans.
Dozens of families will move next year as part of a pilot program to reforest the area, repair run-down homes and teach locals how to read and write, Military Secretary Pedro Rafael Pena said Wednesday.
The first families will move to the southwestern province of Pedernales, where the government says Haitians have damaged the Bahoruco mountain range by chopping down trees to plant crops and build makeshift homes. Soldiers also will reclaim property that Haitians seized after local residents left, Pena said.
He did not know how much the relocation would cost, but said it would receive private-sector financing.
The Rev. Regino Martinez, a Dominican priest, disputed the government’s claim that the thousands of Haitian immigrants living along the 240-mile border are driving locals away.
“It’s not that the Haitians are invading – it’s that the Dominicans are moving elsewhere to seek a better life,” said Martinez, who oversees the border-monitoring section of Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Services.
Martinez called the military program a farce that does not truly aim to solve illegal immigration, saying most border-patrol officers let immigrants illegally cross into the country.
“The government invents a peaceful invasion … to make people believe that they are controlling the problem,” he said.
An estimated 1 million people of Haitian descent live in the Dominican Republic after fleeing their impoverished country where most people live on less than $1 a day.