Prevent humanitarian tragedy in Dominican Republic

Haitians face deportation threats by Dominican Republic
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Haitians face deportation threats by Dominican Republic 03:50

Story highlights

  • Author: People of Haitian descent born in Dominican Republican are being deprived of citizenship
  • He says the United States needs to speak forcefully to try to stop the persecution

Led Black is the editor-in-chief of the Uptown Collective, a website serving the English-speaking Dominican diaspora in the United States as well as New York's multicultural neighborhood of Washington Heights. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)My mother left the Dominican Republic in the late 1960s and came to New York City to create a better life for her children. I was born and raised in Washington Heights, but I lived in the Dominican Republic for several years as a child and have traveled back every few years since. I absolutely love the Dominican Republic.

That same love of Quisqueya, the indigenous word for the island of Hispaniola, which my parents instilled in me, I have, in turn, inculcated in my three daughters with regular trips to the Dominican Republic. It is because of that profound and abiding affection that I am so outraged and deeply saddened by the actions of those in power in the country.
Led Black
In one fell swoop in 2013, the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic rendered hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent stateless by ruling that people born in the country would no longer be automatically granted citizenship. To add insult to injury, the extremely draconian measure was enacted retroactively, reaching back to 1929.
    What that means in practical terms is that if you are a child of Haitian ancestry born in the Dominican Republic you will not be a granted a birth certificate or if you already have one it will be invalidated. Without that crucial document, one cannot obtain an official ID, which means that you cannot legally work, drive, go to school, be treated in a hospital or even get married. In essence, the ruling turned a significant portion of the population into nonpeople.
    The principle of jus soli, Latin for right of the soil, means that the citizenship of a child is determined by the place of his or her birth. It is the predominant rule in the Americas. Since I was born in the United States, I'm a direct beneficiary of that concept. It sickens me to think that the rights that Dominicans and other immigrants enjoy in this country are being stripped away from Dominicans of Haitian extraction in the Dominican Republic.
    It gets worse. This past week marked the deadline for undocumented workers to register their presence in the country. Mass deportations may begin at any moment. According to Greg Grandin of The Nation, Gen. Rubén Darío Paulino Sem, the army official in charge of the deportation, "has been overseeing the construction of seven concentration camps -- which he calls 'shelters,' or 'centros de acogida' -- where Dominicans suspected of being of Haitian descent will be housed until a 'final evaluation' can be made."
    The fact of the matter is that many of those who will be deported have never set foot in Haiti, don't speak the language and do not consider Haiti as their home. They are Dominicans. Many Dominicans living in the United States acutely feel their pain and are mobilizing to counter the deportations. Prominent Dominican-Americans such as Junot Díaz and Julia Alvarez are forcefully making their voices heard. That something like this can happen in the 21st century, a few hundred miles from the United States, does not bode well for humanity and sets a dangerous precedent for other countries dealing with their own immigration issues.
    The Dominican government has decided that using Haitians as a scapegoat for their failings and systemic corruption is a winning strategy and has now doubled down on that effort. The subsequent rise of xenophobia among Dominicans is a direct result of that tactic and will only make matters worse.
    If the long, troubled history of these two countries is any indication, we are headed for more bloodshed, displacement and death. In fact, the Internet abounds with images and videos of beatings and killings of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.
    In 1937, Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo instigated a massacre that killed thousands of Haitians and sowed the roots of the violent and virulent anti-Haitian sentiment that is once again bearing fruit. We cannot repeat the past.
    Powerful interests in the Dominican Republic, including the sugar industry, have benefited tremendously from Haitian labor. They were instrumental in bringing Haitians to work in the cane fields as well as in constructing the hotels and resorts that have sprouted up all over the Dominican Republic.
    While I am not in favor of a boycott of the Dominican Republic, as it will only hurt all those people who are employed in tourism, the Dominican elite is courting disaster if it continues down this perilous course. The Dominican Republic is the most visited island in the Caribbean with almost 5 million visitors annually. Financial ruin and possibly revolution will be the outcome if that were to change dramatically as tourism is a vital source of revenue for the country.
    Intense international pressure must be brought to bear to bring the Dominican government back from the brink. But mere condemnation is not enough. Pope Francis and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio have also issued statements. And a petition urging the Obama administration to pressure the Dominican government to halt the deportations has garnered nearly 35,000 signatures.
    Action is needed, and it is needed now. The international community, namely France and the United States, has a moral responsibility to lift up Haiti from the misery, despair and utter poverty that bedevils it. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, and while the Dominican Republic is relatively richer, it cannot and should not bear the burden of that undertaking alone.
    As a Dominican-American, I strongly believe that it is our duty to push, organize and agitate for a Dominican Republic that respects the rights, wishes and aspirations of all its citizens and residents. Apathy is not an option.
    Pa'Lante Siempre Pa'Lante
    (Forward, Always Forward)