SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Dominican human rights activists Tuesday announced planned demonstrations across the country in coming days to protest a court ruling that effectively strips citizenship rights from Dominican-born children of Haitian immigrants.
The announcement came as Haiti recalled its ambassador to the country for consultation on what Foreign Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir called a worrying decision by Dominican authorities on the fate of up to 300,000 people born in the country since 1929, most of whom are descendants of Haitians. The ruling from the nation’s top court cannot be appealed.
Dominican officials defended the ruling, saying it ends uncertainty for children of immigrants and opens the door for them to apply for residency and eventually citizenship but no plan is currently in place.
“The ruling unifies the country,” said Roberto Rosario, president of the Central Electoral Board, which is charged with creating the plan. “It clarifies and defines a legal way and provides a framework to seek a humanitarian way out for those people.”
In South Florida and Haiti, activists denounced the ruling. Jean-Robert Lafortune, head of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition in Miami, said it was “as barbaric and vicious of the ethnic cleansing action undertaken by” former Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Thousands of Haitians were rounded up and killed under Trujillo 76 years ago this month. Some say he was attempting to whiten the Dominican population.
“The current court decision demands strong action against the Dominican Republic,” said Lafortune, who plans to meet Wednesday with other Haitian activists to consider, among other things, protests in front of Dominican consulates across the United States.
Antonio Pol-Emil, a member of the Dominican-Haitian Cultural Center in Santo Domingo, said “racism permeated” the high court’s decision.
“There are social groups in the Dominican Republic and in politics that work on the issue of immigration and because of their racist and anti-Haitian beliefs, they hold onto the idea that children of Haitian don’t have a right to citizenship,” he said at a Tuesday news conference called by more than a dozen Dominican civil society groups.
The birth-right decision came just days before the U.S. Department of Labor also cast a harsh spotlight on the state of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. A highly critical report found those working in the country’s profitable sugar industry are exposed to deplorable conditions that violate labor laws. Among the findings: Haitian sugarcane cutters were underpaid, overworked, living in unsanitary conditions, and many tricked into coming to the Dominican Republic.
Taken together, the court ruling and labor report paint a bleak picture of life for Haitian immigrants and their families in the neighboring country on the island of Hispaniola.
“The truth is finally coming out,” said Father Christopher Hartley, a Roman Catholic priest who filed a complaint in 2010 under a trade pact that prompted the U.S. government to investigate practices in the Dominican sugar industry.
“These are very clear human rights abuses, including the issue of statelessness,” Hartley told the Miami Herald in a telephone interview from his mission in a remote village in Ethiopia.