Human rights groups say tens of thousands of people of Haitian descent but stripped of their Dominican citizenship by the Dominican Republic’s highest court could be at risk of deportations after a residency deadline takes effect Sunday.
Fewer than 7,000 individuals who were born to undocumented foreign parents and never had their births made official in the Dominican Republic have applied to obtain a residency permit needed to later claim citizenship. The number is far less than the government’s estimated 50,000 — human rights groups say it’s as high as 250,000 — who had their citizenship revoked after the Dominican Constitutional Court in 2013 removed citizenship for persons born after 1929 to immigrants without proper documentation.
Washington González, the Dominican deputy minister for interior and police, told the news agency EFE that, unlike three months ago when the deadline was extended to Feb. 1, there will be no extension this time. He said 6,937 people had registered so far and that individuals will be allowed to apply on the day since it’s a Sunday.
“There have been several obstacles and concerns surrounding the process,” said Wade McMullen, managing attorney with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. “But we can’t forget that the Constitutional Court stripped hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of their nationality and forced them to register as self-reported foreigners in exchange for getting what appears to be temporary protection from being expelled from the only country they have ever known.”
Following the court’s ruling, the Dominican Congress approved a law to regularize the status. Despite the law, human rights groups and foreign governments have continued to criticized the Dominican Republic, which threatened last year to leave the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The group ordered the Dominican government to protect individuals from deportations and to grant them provisional rights.
While the Dominican law doesn’t exclusively target individuals of Haitian descent, they are the vast majority affected.
McMullen said RKC will continue its lobbying efforts to pressure Dominican authorities to reverse their position including reaching out to leaders of the 15-member Caribbean Community regional bloc, which has taken a strong stance against the ruling, when they meet in the Bahamas in the coming days. Concerns also will be raised about a new Bahamas immigration policy that also has triggered an increase in individuals of Haitian descent being detained and deported to Haiti from the Bahamas.
“We see this all around the world,” McMullen said, “ a convenient political scapegoat for governments needing to play to the lowest common denominator to rally people around them. People of Haitian descent and migrants are those unfortunate scapegoats in places like the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.”
McMullen and Amnesty International researcher Chiara Liguori said while they do not know for certain what Dominican authorities will do after Sunday’s deadline takes effect, there is cause for concern over the possibility of mass deportations.
On Wednesday, Amnesty issued an appeal for urgent action whenr two-mini buses carrying 51 individuals including 30 children born in the Dominican Republic were deported to Haiti after a military officer denied them access into a city for being “undocumented migrants.” The group was en route to the eastern Dominican town of San Juan de la Maguana to register under the program. The children were traveling with a group of Roman Catholic nuns and some Haitian migrants, who were also going to enroll in the separate National Regularization Plan for Foreigners with irregular migration status
The Dominican Ministry of Interior eventually gave authorization to allow the group to re-enter the country.
“This isn’t an anomaly,” said McMullen, noting the country’s history with mass expulsions targeting those of Haitian descent. “It is only a matter of time.”
Said Liguori: “We don’t know what the authorities are planning.... there have been no reaction from the government.”