End the misery on Hispaniola

IN 2013: Protesters hold a banner that reads in Spanish; “Attention, the Dominican Republic is a racist country,” in Port-au-Prince, Haiti,
IN 2013: Protesters hold a banner that reads in Spanish; “Attention, the Dominican Republic is a racist country,” in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, AP

The deportation and forcible removal of people that the government of the Dominican Republic identifies as Haitian has created a severe humanitarian crisis along its shared border that must be halted before it creates greater misery.

The Dominican ambassador to the United States makes a welcome declaration today — see his message on the Other Views page — that no one born in the Dominican Republic will be deported, and that no one entitled to legal Dominican nationality will be deprived of it. His government adamantly maintains that it is merely trying to fix a broken immigration and citizenship system that brings everyone in the country into a “legal framework.”

But credible reports from journalists and human-rights organizations describe forcible deportations by the military, streams of people fleeing the country out of fear that they, too, will be kicked out without any right to appeal and rough treatment by Dominican authorities at every turn. It flies in the face of reality to pretend that large numbers of people are not being uprooted and leaving involuntarily.

The Dominican claim of a sovereign right to regulate all matters within its borders regarding immigration and citizenship — which no one questions — does not justify sowing panic among those who lack the right documentation.

It matters, as well, to recall that this began with decisions made by courts in the Dominican Republic that were bound to cause grief: First, they stripped citizenship from anyone born there whose parents were in the country illegally. Then they made the rule retroactive to 1929. The deadline for these individuals to apply for citizenship was Feb. 1. Only about 9,000 did so, although credible estimates say up to 300,000 are eligible.

Making matters worse, the government set a deadline of June 17 for anyone who lacked legal status to normalize their residency, following the 18-month registration period.

The government was apparently not prepared for the ensuing flood of applicants, however, and it turned a deaf ear on Haitian government pleas to extend the deadline. Haiti is not blameless in this. The country’s badly flawed civil registry has made it impossible for the country to issue the proper identification documents to Haitians needing them in time to meet the deadline, and obtaining a Haitian passport amid this process has by all accounts been a nightmare.

The government says more than 350,000 residents took advantage of the regularization plan and the Naturalization Law. It also boasts that nearly 290,000 people who requested regularization of their migratory status will have their cases reviewed by the end of August, and residential status will be granted to successful applicants.

But for all that, the process has been a disorderly mess from the outset. A sense of dread has taken hold among people of Haitian extraction, who fear being asked for papers they don’t possess if they go into the streets and thus being subject to sudden deportation. The government’s minions often act with cruelty when dealing with anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally.

The Dominican and Haitian governments need to reach agreement on how to make this a more orderly process, for the sake of all concerned. The other governments of the hemisphere, including the United States, must add their voices to a call to bring an immediate end to this intolerable human crisis.