Dominican immigration

2011-02-10 12:54:31

Between 1980 and 2000, the Dominican Republic was second only to Mexico among source nations in the Western Hemisphere for immigration to the United States. In the U.S. census of 2000 and the Canadian census of 2001, 764,945 Americans and 4,965 Canadians claimed Dominican descent. The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated that there were also about 91,000 Dominicans in the country illegally, though many observers believe the actual figure to be two or three times that amount. Most Dominicans in the United States live in the Northeast, with by far the greatest concentration—about 550,000—in the New York metropolitan area.
The Dominican Republic occupies 18,700 square miles of the island of Hispaniola in the West Indies between 18 and 20 degrees north latitude. The Atlantic Ocean forms the northern coastline, the Caribbean, the south. Haiti occupies the western portion of Hispaniola and the island of Puerto Rico is the nearest to the east. A high mountain range rises in the center of the country forming a fertile valley in the north. In 2002, the population was estimated at 8,581,477. The people are of mixed ethnicities, including whites and blacks, and almost all are Roman Catholic. Christopher Columbus landed on Hispaniola in 1492 and found native Arawak and Carib Indians. Spain held the island until 1697 when the western third was ceded to France and named Haiti. In 1801, the eastern portion of the island was seized by Haitians and then ruled intermittently by Haiti or Spain throughout the 19th century. U.S. Marines occupied the country from 1916 to 1924, when a constitutional government was established. From 1930 to 1961, General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina subjected the island to harsh rule. Following Trujillo’s assassination in 1961, the country moved toward anarchy and civil war. Fear of a communist takeover led to a U.S. invasion in 1965 in support of a pro- Western regime, and a 17-month occupation. Former Trujillo aide Joaquín Balaguer was subsequently elected and remained in office almost continuously until 1996.
During the Trujillo regime, fewer than 17,000 mostly privileged Dominicans left the island. With Trujillo’s assassination and the resulting political instability of the 1960s, the number of immigrants increased, leading to a substantial Dominican community even before the new provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (1965) took effect. Over the next 40 years, the tide increased dramatically, with more than 93,000 coming in the 1960s, 148,000 in the 1970s, 252,000 in the 1980s, and 335,000 in the 1990s. The emigration was fueled by the dramatic shift from an isolated, agricultural country to a more diversified economy, including significant manufacturing sectors. As a result of international loans, the Dominican Republic went deeply into debt, and eventually a large percentage of the workforce was displaced. During the 1960s and 1970s, Dominicans found work in northern U.S. cities, as previous residents fled to the suburbs and the American economy evolved, requiring a greater number of unskilled laborers in a variety of service industries. During the 1980s, Dominicans sent hundreds of millions of dollars to their country. Dominican migrants tended to be young (averaging 22 years of age), 60 percent women, and often coming as sojourners who intended someday to return to their island home.
Between 1985 and 1995, it is estimated that almost one-10th of the Dominican Republic’s population of 7.5 million emigrated, almost 60 percent coming to the United States. Dominicans have one of the highest rates of dependence on public assistance of any immigrant group, and the highest among nonrefugees. Immigration peaked between 1990 and 1994, when it averaged 45,000 annually. Between 1998 and 2002, the number remained steady at around 20,000 per year.
Immigrants of the 1960s and 1970s sometimes came for political reasons, though they were seldom formally classified as refugees. Most came for economic opportunity, a trend that increased as the Dominican economy imploded during the 1980s. A small but highly visible minority of Dominicans came to the United States to play professional baseball. In 2002, 1,630 of the 3,066 (53 percent) professional baseball players born outside the 50 states were from the Dominican Republic, including stars such as Sammy Sosa, Vladimir Guerrero, Pedro Martínez, Manny Ramírez, and Albert Pujols. More than 90 percent of Canadian Dominicans immigrated after 1980.