After the Dominican Republic stripped naturalized citizenship rights from residents with roots in Haiti, hundreds of thousands of its residents became essentially stateless. On June 15, the Dominican Republic gave them two days to produce documentation to register their immigration status under threat of deportation to Haiti. At least 200,000 were unable to make the deadline.
The Dominican Republic says it isn’t planning a “mass deportation,” but it is readying buses to shuttle Haitian-descendant Dominicans to newly opened detention centers. Over the weekend, at least 700 Haitian-Dominicans fled the chaos. The Dominican Republic says it will begin deportations in August.
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The United States funds the Dominican military and provides millions of dollars in development and humanitarian aid. US Border Patrol agents monitor the Haitian-Dominican border. In the face of this gross human rights violation, the US should consider withholding some forms of aid to the Dominican Republic.
The US hasn’t made any official statements about what is happening just miles away from our maritime borders. International media, human rights organizations and the UN have denounced the abuses. Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland and mayor of Baltimore, who is running for president, denounced the Dominican Republic’s decision, as did Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, and protesters recently marched on the Dominican Embassy in Washington. But the US government has remained largely silent about the Dominican Republic’s new citizenship ruling.
Until 2010, the Dominican Republic granted automatic citizenship to all people born on its soil. However, in the past years, Haitian-born and Haitian-descendant Dominicans have suffered blows to their legal status that have wracked the community with uncertainty about whether they will be allowed to stay in the country they call home. Adding insult to injury, many Haitians wound up in the Dominican Republic after being recruited or smuggled in by Dominican businesses and traffickers.
In 2013, the Dominican government retroactively stripped citizenship rights from 210,000 of their citizens, including anyone who had undocumented immigrant parents or whose parents were deemed “in transit” at the time of their children’s birth. These people have since become stateless, suddenly unauthorized to live in their home country and ineligible for citizenship in Haiti. In 2014, Dominican President Danilo Medina passed a naturalization law that would give some of those who had lost their citizenship a path toward reestablishment, but the law’s implementation only helped a small number of Haitian-Dominicans regain citizenship.
The current crisis underlies a long history of violent racism in the Dominican Republic. In 1937, the Dominican government under former US Marine and dictator Rafael Trujillo rounded up all suspected Haitians and massacred tens of thousands of them. Often, government officials selected their targets by asking them to pronounce the word perejil (parsley) to see if they could roll their Rs like native Spanish speakers. At the time, the US, which occupied the country from 1916 to 1924, justified the attacks as a necessary evil.
According to data from the Security Assistance Monitor, the US has given the Dominican military more than $96 million since 2000, through military training and education programs, counternarcotics operations and antiterrorism programs.
Although the government claimed there would be no mass roundups, as of June 18, 2,000 Dominican troops were overseeing the process of ordering buses and preparing detention centers.
Starting in 2006, the US government has also deployed its own Border Patrol members to the Dominican-Haitian border, and funded the Dominican Border Patrol, or CESFRONT, greatly influencing its “strong borders” policy. As reported by Todd Miller in a 2013 article for The Nation, the Dominican Republic-Haiti border looks “like a five-and-dime version of what happens on the US southern border.”
The US Embassy in Santo Domingo also has its own Border Patrol office. In addition to the Dominican Republic, Customs and Border Protection attachés are also now detailed to US embassies in Brazil, Mexico, Kenya, South Africa, Italy and Canada, among other countries.
Despite the close relationship between Dominican and US Border Patrol forces, the US has refused to help the government address the massive influx of Haitian immigrants in the wake of the disastrous 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In fact, in the five days after the earthquake, a US Air Force plane circled the island for five hours, with the prerecording voice of Raymond Joseph, Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, saying on repeat:
I’ll be honest with you: If you think you will reach the US and all the doors will be wide open to you, that’s not at all the case. They will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from.
Dominicans’ hatred toward their Haitian-born population resembles ethnic cleansing in its purest form. In a 2013 article in El País, Mario Vargas Llosa compared the Dominican government’s decision to strip Haitians of their citizenship as reminiscent of Hitler’s laws to strip German citizenship from Jews who “had for many years (many centuries) been resident in that country and were a constitutive part of its society.”
Some of the Dominican-Haitians who await detention and deportation today have lived in the Dominican Republic for their entire lives. Many have no family members in Haiti, do not speak Haitian Creole and will not be granted citizenship in Haiti. The US must use its influence in a positive way by denouncing the acts of terror the Dominican Republic is exerting against its own people and by holding funding to Dominican forces accountable.