Faces of a divided island

Updated 3:22 PM ET, Wed April 13, 2016

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Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (CNN)The anti-immigrant rhetoric on the radio, in shops and in the streets is familiar:

The influx from our poorer neighbor is overwhelming. They steal jobs. They are dangerous. They take advantage of our laws.
So is the counterweight:
They are seeking better lives. They do the labor-intensive jobs locals won't. They contribute to the economy.
This isn't about building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border or deporting undocumented Central American immigrants. It's an argument taking place 700 miles off the coast of Miami on the island of Hispaniola, home to the Dominican Republic and Haiti -- two nations divided by history as much as a border.
It's an uneasy coexistence for countries whose intertwined histories of colonization, conquest and racism over the centuries have left deep wounds.
    In recent years, controversial court rulings and laws have renewed tensions in the Dominican Republic.
    Hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent were stripped of their citizenship and forced to prove they were born here. Hundreds of thousands more who are undocumented immigrants have been forced to register with the government.
    In a political fight with arguments similar to the debate in the United States, the immigration hard-liners won. Last year I traveled across the Dominican Republic and Haiti to see the fallout from that battle. Among the people I met: A soccer player who left the Dominican national team because she couldn't prove her nationality, a law student fighting for Haitians' rights, and a woman who saw her town divided along racial lines.
    Here are their stories amid scenes of life on the island.
    Raquel Aristilde de Valdez, a Dominican of Haitian descent, is a business owner in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

    Foreigner in her own country

    Standing in front of her flower shop in Santo Domingo's Pequeño Haiti, or Little Haiti neighborhood, Raquel Aristilde de Valdez introduces herself as Haitian, though she was born here, in the Dominican capital.
    She belongs to a slice of the Dominican population -- about 2.5% of 10.4 million -- born in the country with at least one immigrant parent.
    I ask her how she sees herself, and she says "Dominico-Haitian. Fifty-fifty."
    There is pride evident as she explains how easily she shifts between Dominican Spanish and Haitian Creole, fluent in the languages and cultures of the two countries.
      "I speak Spanish perfectly well, I speak Creole perfectly well," she says. "I eat Haitian food, I eat Dominican food."
      That between-two-worlds feeling is familiar to children of immigrants.
      Despite her comfort inside Dominican society, Raquel considers herself an outsider. And she is treated as one.
      "My skin color, my race, my physical features don't say I am Dominican," she says.
      To her, the only things that make her "Dominican" are her birth certificate and her national ID card, or cedula.
      For a time, even those things were stripped from her, when a lawsuit accusing the government of discriminating against people like Raquel backfired.
      In the suit, another Dominican-born woman of Haitian descent alleged that authorities denied her a cedula because her parents were immigrants.
      For decades, the Dominican Republic's Constitution had bestowed citizenship on anyone born on Dominican soil, just like in the United States. That ended in 2010, when the Constitution was rewritten to exclude children of undocumented immigrants.