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. The goal of this policy is to guarantee a regular status to every person living on Dominican soil.
Unfortunately, those who have been so quick to criticize the Dominican Republic are basing their claims on inaccurate information. In addition, the critics choose to simply ignore the bigger picture — that countries around the globe are grappling with an alarmingly large population of people displaced by struggling economies and conflict.
Just look at the United States. One of its most vexing public policy conundrums is how to manage a long-broken immigration system that has left over 11 million undocumented persons living and working across the country.
Similarly, on the island of Hispaniola, home to Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the documentation and naturalization policies of both countries were weak and largely not enforced. Because of this reality, hundreds of thousands of people on Hispaniola (mainly in Haiti) did not have clear residency status or citizenship documents.
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While we cannot undo the past, the Dominican government is addressing a broken system that for decades left large groups of its population, both citizens and migrants, undocumented and vulnerable.
We have been in dialogue with the Haitian government and consulted with the international community — including the International Organization for Migration, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF — on how best to implement fair and transparent policies that will provide a regularized status to every person living in the country in a way that protects their fundamental rights.
While no plan is perfect, we have already made great progress to improve the lives of previously undocumented people. In 2015, hundreds of thousands of people will have documentation and rights in our country that they did not have two years ago. More migrants could have been regularized if Haiti had documented its own nationals living abroad, which Haitian officials have publicly acknowledged. However, for many, the Dominican Republic will be their legal residence, and others will gain Dominican nationality.
Over 350,000 residents took advantage of both the National Regularization Plan (which ended on June 17 after an 18-month registration period) and Naturalization Law.
▪ Fifty-five thousand residents born in the Dominican Republic of two foreign parents and carrying documents of citizenship issued by the Dominican government before the court ruling will now be recognized as citizens.
▪ Nearly 9,000 residents born in the Dominican Republic of two foreign parents under an irregular migrant condition and without foreign papers were registered in the book of foreigners, and may access naturalization after two years.
▪ Nearly 290,000 people requested the regularization of their migratory status under the Dominican government’s National Regularization Plan. Pending a review of each applicant’s status, to be completed by the end of August, residential status will be granted to successful applicants.
No one born in the Dominican Republic will be deported, and no one who holds or is entitled to legal Dominican nationality will be deprived of it. Since President Danilo Medina decreed a moratorium in December 2013, no deportations have occurred. In fact, individuals who have voluntarily left the Dominican Republic are entitled to return and apply for residential status.
The Dominican Republic will continue to support its immigrant community, including providing access to free public services, such as healthcare and education. We also remain committed to ensuring that the review of each case will take an individualized approach with respect for human rights.
What we’ve accomplished so far represents a giant step forward for human rights in the region, but there is more work to be done. We will continue to consult closely with U.S., E.U. and U.N. organizations as we bring clarity to an outdated system in a responsible and humane way.
José Tomás Pérez is the ambassador of the Dominican Republic to the United States.