The State Department on Friday gently scolded the Dominican Republic for its resumption of deportations, urging the country's government to avoid deporting people to Haiti if they had once held a claim to Dominican citizenship.
The statement was a notable departure for the Obama administration, which has otherwise remained largely silent in recent months as the Dominican government’s widely criticized immigration regularization process wound to a close.
“We recognize the prerogative of the Dominican Republic to remove individuals from its territory who are present without authorization,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner wrote in the statement. “At the same time, we urge the Dominican Republic to avoid mass deportations and to conduct any deportations in a transparent manner that fully respects the human rights of deportees.”
But for many human rights groups that have long protested the Dominican government’s actions, the State Department's remarks didn’t go far enough.
Francesca Menes, a co-coordinator of the #Rights4AllInDR campaign, says her U.S. coalition of Dominican and Haitian expat groups aims to pressure the U.S. government into taking more direct action to curb deportations in the Dominican Republic.
“Our expectation was that there was going to be some kind of intervening to hold the Dominican government accountable, rather than releasing some statement,” Menes told The WorldPost. "The Dominican Republic is so close to us and we’re just watching from afar.”
Menes said she was disappointed that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hasn't spoken about the issue, given the Clinton family’s close ties to Haiti. She noted that former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is competing with Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, recently met with Haitian and Dominican immigrants in Florida to discuss the crisis.
Clinton “has a national platform that she could use to speak up and she hasn’t,” Menes said. “[O’Malley] just taking that initiative meant a lot to us, as opposed to Hillary, who also came down here, but chose to only meet with the Cuban community.”
The Clinton campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wade McMullen, an attorney with RFK Human Rights, said that deportations in the Dominican Republic are carried out much more rapidly than in the United States and with little opportunity to appeal the decision.
“Some of the people who have been deported have reported that there’s no process at all,” McMullen told The WorldPost. “They just get picked up, put on a bus and sent to the border. It’s extremely quick... We’re really concerned that this process doesn’t comply with the Dominican government’s international human rights obligations.”
The Dominican Republic resumed deportations last week, according to local reports, after largely suspending them for a year and a half to give people a chance to comply with the new immigration normalization plan. Thousands of undocumented Haitians began leaving the Dominican Republic voluntarily when the June 17 deadline passed. Settlement camps have sprung up across the border in Haiti to receive the migrating Haitians, according to NPR.
A series of legal changes since 2004 have eliminated the concept of birthright citizenship in the Dominican Republic. The newer standard was enshrined in the country’s 2010 constitution, and a 2013 Constitutional Court ruling applied the standard retroactively, leaving thousands of people who'd once qualified for citizenship effectively stateless -- including an estimated 60,000 children.
Facing an onslaught of international criticism over the court’s ruling, the Dominican government implemented a plan to normalize the status of undocumented Haitians and to restore citizenship to Dominican-born people with undocumented parents who had previously qualified for citizenship.
But human rights groups largely panned the plan. Some 56,000 people who previously held passports, national IDs or other documentation identifying them as Dominican nationals had their citizenship restored under the plan. However, fewer than 9,000 people who were born in the country but lacked such documents, or else had difficulty obtaining them, applied to register as foreigners with an expedited pathway to citizenship before a February deadline. June 17 was the last day for undocumented immigrants, including people left stateless by the new policies, to register with the Dominican government as foreigners with the possibility of obtaining a provisional visa.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the Dominican government’s new immigration and citizenship system, warning that the policies could lead to the deportations of thousands of Dominican-born people made stateless through the process. The vast majority of the estimated 200,000 stateless people in the Dominican Republic are of Haitian descent and black, fueling suspicions that racism played some role in creating the policies.
Dominican officials aren't likely to be very receptive to the foreign criticism. President Danilo Medina has defended the country's immigration and citizenship scheme as an issue of sovereignty, saying in speeches that he won’t bow to the interests of international nongovernmental organizations. Medina administration officials have pointed out that the United States routinely deports Haitians and other foreign nationals over the protests of U.S. immigrant rights advocates.