Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Discrimination Against Dominicans of Haitian Descent

 I have traveled to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and am familiar with the history of racial tensions between the population of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent, and other citizens of the Dominican Republic.  These problems are by no means unique to these two neighboring countries, nor are there easy solutions.  In addition to race there is competition for land, social services, and jobs.  But while this situation should not be oversimplified, the way the Dominican government is dealing with it is unfortunate.

In a September 2013 Dominican Constitutional Court ruling the citizenship of more than 200,000 people – mostly Dominicans of Haitian descent – was summarily revoked, and they lost access to education, health care, and other essential social services, as well as their basic rights.  Since that ruling the Dominican government has threatened to enforce strict and prejudicial immigration laws.  Many affected residents live under constant fear of deportation, and according to the United Nations nearly 20,000 have already fled the country in the past month, putting the island on the brink of a mass refugee crisis.

By threatening to deport Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent, the Dominican government is on a path that not only disregards fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, but may provoke a reaction that makes the situation worse.  Even as we are already seeing the consequences of the threat of mass deportations, following through with such a policy would likely greatly exacerbate tensions in the Dominican Republic and create a regional diplomatic and humanitarian crisis.  Haiti, impoverished and still recovering from the devastating 2010 earthquake, does not have the capacity to handle the sudden arrival of thousands of homeless, jobless, Dominicans.

The United States, with 319 million people spread across fifty states is among the most ethnically and racially diverse countries in the world.  The challenges this has posed for our own democracy over the past two centuries are well known.  We have not always handled these challenges as we should have.  I hope the Dominican government will learn from our experience and recognize the need to reverse course and reaffirm the legal status and rights of these people.  

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