By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic are locked in negotiations aimed at resolving a dispute that potentially has hemispheric implications. This all revolves around a court decision last September in the Dominican Republic that retroactively stripped thousands of their Dominican citizenship if they or their families entered the Dominican Republic illegally even if they, as children born in the Dominican Republic, have no relationship to their ethnic homeland. Based on a 2010 Constitutional change, the court’s rulings places people who may have been in the Dominican Republic since 1929 into a legal twilight zone. The main victims of this ruling are Haitians and people of Haitian descent. This action continues a long list of anti-Haitian moves over the years by various governments of the Dominican Republic.
According to news reports, the negotiations have been progressing, though the Dominican government is alleged to be arguing that the numbers of people affected by this ruling are far less than those suggested by the High Commissioner for Refugees for the United Nations: 200,000 people.
Though there has been some media attention in the U.S. the Dominican court ruling and subsequent talks, the gravity of the court’s ruling has been largely understated. Not to be melodramatic but the stripping of the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of people is not dissimilar to the actions that the Nazis took against Jews in Germany in the 1930s. And, while no one is suggesting that a mass extermination of Haitians or Haitian-Dominicans is in the works, the Dominican Republic is the land that perpetrated genocide against Haitians living in the Dominican Republic in the 1930s. The memory of that genocide and the on-going anti-Black sentiment in much of Dominican society is an ever present reality.
Permitting the Dominican Republic to remove from citizenship even the small numbers of people that the Dominican government projects – let alone the 200,000 that the United Nations’ Commissioner suggests – sets a precedent within the entire hemisphere. Migration is a reality throughout the hemisphere. Retroactively implementing constitutional changes is wrong legally and equally wrong morally. It is, however, precisely what some right-wing and wrong-headed individuals want to do in the U.S.
Specifically, there have been efforts afoot to alter the Constitution of the United States such that birth in the U.S.A. no longer guarantees citizenship. Efforts such as these and what we are witnessing in the Dominican Republic inevitably and, in fact, quite consciously pit populations against one another, blaming one racial or ethnic group for the problems faced by others. In the case of the Dominican Republic, it is fairly clear that this court decision is, more than anything else, a cynical political move rather than a considered, reasonable and fair decision.
The peoples and nations of the Western Hemisphere must stand up to this sort of xenophobic behavior. No country should be permitted to ride roughshod over human rights as will be the reality with the implementation of this court decision. There are certain moments in history where one can simply no longer be silent. This is one such moment.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. He is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and atwww.billfletcherjr.com.