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Seeking Dignity for Haitians
May 12, 2009

Seeking Dignity for Haitians
Haitian children. (UN photo)
Haitians currently living in the Dominican Republic – Haiti’s neighbor on the island of Hispaniola – find themselves under increasing pressure as a debate heats up in the Dominican Republic government and among the general population over the rights of immigrants. 

Three days after the brutal killings of a Haitian and a Dominican in a Santo Domingo suburb, the Dominican National Assembly failed to define nationality in the new Constitution. The lawmakers must choose between citizenship by birth (Jus Solis) in the Dominican Republic, or by bloodline (Jus Sanguini). The assembly voted to send the proposals to a commission, hoping a consensus could be found.

The Jacques Viau Dominican Haitian Encounter Network called on the Dominican and Haitian governments to seek common ground through dialogue and mutual respect, after deploring the violence in Santo Domingo.

"We invite the population, to reflection and calm, the dialogue aimed at peace. We also invite the media to a responsible exercise, to take a harmonious message and which serves as an instrument to bolster the ties between the Dominican State and the Haitian State even stronger," said the Network, which includes more than 16 organizations.

The Jesuit Refugees and Migrants Service (SJRM) said Thursday it is concerned with the current debate on the topic of nationality, criticizing a tendency to deny the rights of children of immigrants in the country. SJRM favors the inclusion of the Jus Solis principle in the Constitution, which states that all persons born in the country are considered Dominican, and can assume or reject Dominican nationality at the age of 18.

Sonia Adames and Francisco Leonardo, of the SJRM, said Haitian migration is historical and hasn’t necessarily been a burden for Dominican Republic, and instead “has enriched important economic sectors, … as in the case of sugar, and lately the private sector which makes it competitive.” 

Adames said if the Jus Sanguini proposal is adopted over the Jus Solis, it will create a “sphere of statelessness” in the country and will bring about the social exclusion, and the negation of rights of thousands of Dominicans.

In the United States, members of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, the Immigration Forum, the Episcopal Church, members of Refugee Council USA, representatives from the Florida and New York Haitian-American communities, faith leaders, and several Haitian students slated for deportation and others will be in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, May 13, to meet with representatives of the Administration, and members of Congress, to advise them of the critical need for Temporary Protected Status for Haitians.

Meetings are scheduled with Esther Olavarrio Cruz, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy (DHS) and Carlos P. Odio, Deputy Associate Director in the Political Affairs Department at the White House; Sen. Bill Nelson, (D.-Fla.), a member of the Senate Armed Services, Budget, Commerce, Finance, Intelligence and Aging committees; Rep. Kendrick Meek (D. –Fla. )a member of the House Ways and Means Committee; and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R.- Fla. ) the Ranking Member of the House Committees Foreign Affairs Committee.

In December 2008, the United States began forcibly deporting 30,000 Haitians back to their country, a country ravaged by consecutive natural disasters last September. The two hurricanes and two tropical storms that hit Haiti in devastating succession during harvest season last year killed nearly 1,000 people and left 800,000 of the country’s residents in need of emergency humanitarian assistance. The storms destroyed at least $180 million in crops, exacerbating an existing food shortage. Forcing 30,000 Haitian nationals back to their reeling homeland under these circumstances is irresponsible and inhumane.

The Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress can offer a humanitarian helping hand by granting Temporary Protected Status to the Haitians, allowing them an opportunity to stay temporarily on our shores as they await the moment when their nation can accept their safe return. Congress established TPS to grant safety to foreign nationals in just such circumstances as those currently facing Haiti. 

Deporting 30,000 people to Haiti under the current circumstances would only act to further aggravate the current humanitarian crisis and increase the stress on Haiti’s already weak economy. The destabilizing effects will be yet another blow to an already struggling democracy. This is a matter of life and death for Haitians.

Press Contact Information
Mr Christian Fuchs
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