Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric Promotes Abuses in the US and the Dominican Republic

08/24/2015 03:40 pm ET Updated Aug 23, 2016

Over the past few weeks, virtually every American has heard, or heard of, Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric. Without addressing facts, Trump plays to our most base and racist instincts. Disdainful of evidence that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than citizens , he continues to allege mass numbers of rapists and drug dealers are being "sent" across our border. On August 19, two South Boston brothers attacked a homeless immigrant, claiming they were inspired by Trump .

Hatemongering can incite individual acts of violence and can also inspire policies threatening to immigrants and citizens alike. Trump is not only scapegoating immigrants, he is calling for an end to birthright citizenship. If his plan somehow succeeds, it may jeopardize the human rights of millions, particularly members of minority communities. If this prognosis seems alarmist, we need look no further than the Caribbean region.

Thousands of citizens of the Dominican Republic were recently denationalized and threatened with mass expulsion and the prospect of statelessness. . As a result of a 2013 ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal, described by many as motivated by racial animus, the country did away with birthright citizenship by limiting Dominican nationality to individuals with one Dominican parent, regardless of their own birth on Dominican soil. Despite the language of the Dominican Constitution, this decision stripped the citizenship of generations of Dominican citizens, applying retroactively to 1929 onward.

The vast majority of these newly undocumented former Dominican citizens are dark-skinned people of Haitian descent. In a country where the poor typically have a very difficult time obtaining birth certificates, the decision effectively singles out poor Dominican-born children whose ancestors have resided in the country for several generations.

The Dominican Government for its part has mounted an initially effective public relations campaign. It has characterized this human rights tragedy as an internal immigration matter by pointing to the United States' own immigration problems. In fact, in a letter from the Dominican Ambassador chastising over 100 law professors for urging President Obama to act on the matter, the D.R. government purposefully confuses the issue:

"Over the past month, much attention and criticism has come to the Dominican Republic as it begins the difficult and sensitive process of implementing a policy to bring undocumented residents into a legal framework that regularizes their citizenship status.

Just look at the United States. One of the most vexing public policy conundrums in this country is how to manage a long-broken immigration system that has left over 11 million undocumented persons living and working across the U.S."

The Dominican Government improperly characterizes its recent denationalization policy as an immigration matter when it is, in truth, a matter of discrimination, a poorly-veiled program to cleanse the country of many of its citizens of Haitian descent. In fear of the threatened mass deportation of undocumented individuals, by the Dominican government's own estimate as many as 30,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent have "self-deported."

In response to a letter to Secretary Kerry from several US Senators, on August 14, 2015, the U.S. Department of State urged the Government of the Dominican Republic "to avoid mass deportations and to conduct any deportations in a transparent matter that fully respects the human rights of deportees." Despite condemnation by the United Nations, current estimates from the U.S. State Department of "voluntary departures" from the Dominican Republic range from 35,000 to 70,000 people.

The stripping of Dominican nationality from Dominicans of Haitian descent makes Haitian-Dominicans, or those deemed by appearance, skin tone or circumstances to be of Haitian heritage, vulnerable to deportation in violation of the prohibition against mass expulsion found in the American Convention on Human Rights, Article 22(9), and Articles 47 and 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. Moreover, ethnicity-based denationalization is a violation of the norm against discrimination found in Article 1 of the American Convention, Article 13 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Finally, to the extent that denationalized Dominicans are not recognized as citizens of Haiti, this perfect storm of discrimination, denationalization and mass expulsion tends toward statelessness, in violation of the right to nationality itself, also recognized in Article 20 of the American Convention, and Article 15 of the Universal Declaration.

As two U.S. citizens and legal scholars in the fields of immigration and international law, one focused on human rights in the Americas, and one on human rights in Africa, we stand with the poor, marginalized, and denationalized in the Dominican Republic. And in a political season in which presidential candidates call for an end to birthright citizenship in the U.S., we ask our fellow citizens to expose and reject the use of immigration reform rhetoric in the service of racial inequality or ethnic cleansing. In solidarity with the stateless and near-stateless in the Dominican Republic, we call on the US government to oppose the denationalization and expulsion of Dominicans of Haitian descent and to affirm birthright citizenship in both the United States and the Dominican Republic.

This post was co-authored with Jennifer Moore, a law professor at the University of New Mexico.