Man­u­fac­tur­ing a cri­sis

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - T’s a cri­sis

Ithat need not — and should not — oc­cur. The Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, al­ready poised to de­port hun­dreds of thou­sands of Haitian mi­grants who it claims are in the coun­try il­le­gally, could also end up ship­ping na­tive­born Do­mini­cans of Haitian de­scent across the bor­der too. That would be es­pe­cially de­spi­ca­ble and heart­less; the mere idea has right­fully drawn in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion.

Coun­tries are free to de­fine whom they do and do not con­sider cit­i­zens, and, for that mat­ter, who can live within their borders. But Do­mini­can law for­merly de­clared any­one born in the coun­try, re­gard­less of the immigration sta­tus of their par­ents, to be a citizen. That was sig­nif­i­cant for the chil­dren of Haitian im­mi­grants, most of whom had come to work in the na­tion’s sugar cane fields, pri­vate homes and small fac­to­ries.

Then a 2010 con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment was passed, lim­it­ing Do­mini­can cit­i­zen­ship to chil­dren of le­gal im­mi­grants, or those who had at least one par­ent of Do­mini­can an­ces­try. In an ap­pallingly un­just de­ci­sion, the Do­mini­can Con­sti­tu­tional Court ruled in 2013 that the def­i­ni­tion ap­plied retroac­tively to 1929, threat­en­ing to ren­der tens of thou­sands of Do­mini­can-born res­i­dents state­less. Un­der in­ter­na­tional pres­sure, the leg­is­la­ture passed a law a year later es­tab­lish­ing a path to cit­i­zen­ship, but the bar­ri­ers it cre­ated were high.

So what will hap­pen now? Last year, the gov­ern­ment or­dered all of its more than 500,000 for­eign-born work­ers — over­whelm­ingly Haitian — to register if they wanted to re­main in the coun­try. Those who failed to do so now face de­por­ta­tion. It is un­clear what will be­come of those peo­ple who were born on Do­mini­can soil to Haitian par­ents.

Hu­man rights ac­tivists say the sit­u­a­tion is framed by the two na­tions’ long-frac­tious history, marked by eco­nomic dis­par­ity and racism. In 1937, Do­mini­can strong­man Rafael Tru­jillo’s troops killed as many as 20,000 Haitians at the bor­der, a purge that weighs bit­terly in Haitian mem­ory. More re­cently, Hu­man Rights Watch has re­ported pe­ri­odic immigration sweeps in which thou­sands of peo­ple were rounded up and herded to the bor­der, of­ten based on lit­tle more than skin color. (Most Haitians are de­scended from African slaves.) This week, gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials were send­ing mixed sig­nals on the pos­si­bil­ity of new roundups, and those af­fected by the retroac­tive cit­i­zen­ship rule fear they too will be de­ported.

That would be a tragedy. Af­ter a life­time in the Span­ish-speak­ing Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, few speak Cre­ole or French, the lan­guages of Haiti, and many don’t qual­ify for cit­i­zen­ship in Haiti ei­ther. Even if they did, the coun­try is un­able to house and care for its ex­ist­ing pop­u­la­tion. The Do­mini­can gov­ern­ment should heed in­ter­na­tional calls to aban­don this pro­gram, and avoid adding to the woes of the world.

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