By Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, WOLA's Senior Associate for the Andes
Carlos Quesada, Executive Director of the International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights
While the Republican primary debates are fueling anti-immigrant rhetoric including calls for recalling the birthright citizenship of immigrants in the United States, Dominico-Haitian human rights and migration activists are coming under attack based on the same logic.
Last week, the Dominican Republic began deporting Haitian descendants, people born in the Dominican Republic and now deemed to be illegally residing in the country. However, something even more sinister is happening. It appears that the citizenship of rights’ advocates is being challenged in an attempt to intimidate those speaking out.
Manuel Dandre, a prominent Dominico-Haitian activist and lawyer advocating for Haitian and Dominico-Haitian rights, was told that his birth certificate could not be provided because he has a “rejected” status; as his mother was a foreigner and did not have the appropriate documents when she registered his birth. Despite weeks of legal struggles, he has yet to receive his birth certificate.
Mr. Dandre is not alone. Antonio Pol Emil; Executive Director of the Dominican Haitian Cultural Center (CCDH) is experiencing a similar situation. Mr. Pol has been requesting a copy of his birth certificate since May in order to renew his passport, but was asked to go to his hometown in the province of El Seibo to get it. When he went there he was told that they could not give him a copy of his birth certificate and he needed to return to Santo Domingo to obtain one there. He has been stuck in this procedural limbo ever since.
Another situation is Ana Maria Belique, an outspoken advocate for people affected by the denationalization process, who works with Movimiento Reconoci.do. Belique publicly challenged the President of the Junta Central Electoral (electoral body), Roberto Rosario Marquez, whom after being legally challenged by people affected by the denationalization process, along with other public officials, decided to retaliate against the activist. Mr. Rosario Marquez claimed in a press conference that when Ms. Belique’s parents registered her at birth, they presented false documents; therefore, she is not Dominican.
These three Dominico-Haitian activists have been very outspoken critics of new Dominican migration policies. But there are many other activists who are in a similar situation, and the international community must act immediately to guarantee their protection.
All countries have a right to deport persons illegally residing within their borders who do not fall within the refugee categories of persons requiring international protection. However, as with many things, the issue is not so cut and dry. The current policy is complicated and affects groups of Dominicans of Haitian descendants in different ways.
In 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court issued order 168-13 that according to human rights groups took away the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Haitian descendants including some 60,000 children. This abhorrent decision violates the American Convention on Human Rights that prohibits signatory countries from arbitrarily denying persons of their right to nationality. A year later, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled against the Dominican government by urging it to compensate victims that were illegally deported, denied identity documents and who lost their nationality arbitrarily.
Ignoring the IACHR decision, the Dominican Congress changed the Constitution, making citizenship based on the parent’s nationality and implementation of this provision retroactive going back 75 years! In essence removing citizenship from people born in the Dominican Republic, leaving them without a national identity.
In response to the outcry around 168-13, a new law, 169-14 was passed to address the plight of undocumented persons born in the Dominican Republic of Haitian ancestry and made stateless due to the change in the Constitution.
Now things get even more complicated.
One group impacted by these laws referred to as Group A, were denied identity documents by the 168-13 but, given until June 17, 2015 to adjust their status. While positive that this law allowed this group of persons to legalize their status, the deadline was unrealistic. Furthermore, administrative obstacles made it difficult for most persons and their children to register for new documents.
A second group, Group B, consists of Haitian descendants born in the Dominican Republic to undocumented parents. Thousands of these people have applied for naturalization under Law 169-14, but not yet received a response. Amnesty International details various legitimate reasons why many of these persons were not able to enroll in this plan and makes a series of concrete recommendations for how the Dominican Republic could remedy this.
The deadline for status adjustment passed. Fearing violence or intimidation, tens of thousands opted to leave “voluntarily” for Haiti rather than face forced deportations. Some of them faced mistreatment and exploitation at the hands of merchants and transporters, who took advantage of their desperation. According to the International Organization of Migration (OIM), an estimated 30 percent of the returnees, or over 6,000 people claim to have been deported by Dominican authorities. Many of the returnees are now living in displaced persons camps on the Haitian side of the border with the Dominican Republic. This is generating a humanitarian crisis that compounds that of a nation still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake.
On August 14, the Dominican government announced that it would deport persons deemed to be illegally present in the country. The press confirmed that operations were underway by the immigration police to place persons without the proper documents into seven detention centers built to house persons pending deportation.
On August 14, the State Department issued a timidly-worded statement that urges the Dominican Republic to not deport persons with a claim to Dominican citizenship and to respect the rights of deportees. While it is positive that the United States broke its silence on the horrendous treatment of Haitian descendants and migrants, this statement is not enough.
Concerned U.S. citizens have called upon the United States to do more in response to this human rights crisis. Five-hundred and sixty former members of the Peace Corps have asked the State Department to enforce the Leahy Law which requires that the United States suspend security assistance to foreign forces credibly accused of human rights abuse. According to the letter to Secretary Kerry, the Dominican security forces tasked with implementing these abusive policies have received training and $17.5 million from the United States since 2013. The letter highlights that the State Department acknowledged in its annual report that di
scrimination of Haitian migrants and descendants constitutes a serious violation of their human rights.
Migrants have rights and those born in any country have rights as well. We all must do more to confront racism and xenophobia. We in the U.S. should require our Department of State to demand greater protection in the Dominican Republic for the rights of Haitian descendants. The United States should ask the Dominican government to define what they are doing to protect the rights of human rights defenders, like those mentioned above.
Finally, it is easy for us in the United States to condemn the Dominican Republic for racist citizenship laws, but listening to presidential campaign speeches here at home reminds us that racist, anti-migrant sentiment must be confronted at home and abroad.