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REGION: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC & HAITI AGREE ON POLICY FOR DEPORTING UNDOCUMENTED HAITIAN IMMIGRANTS.

Haitian and Dominican representatives signed an agreement Dec. 2 in Santo Domingo intended to reduce tensions between the two governments on the issue of illegal Haitian immigration. While the agreement does not address the immigration problem directly, it does provide new controls to protect the rights of deportees.

Tensions regarding immigration rose after Dominican President Leonel Fernandez's administration stepped up policing efforts along the border in November (see NotiCen, 1999-11-11). The Haitian government estimates that 3,500 undocumented Haitians were deported between Nov. 5 and Nov. 19. Since the November crackdown came soon after the Organization of American States (OAS) issued a report critical of Dominican immigration and wage policies, some observers believe the crackdown was politically inspired, playing to widespread fear that Haitians were overloading the country's social services.

In mid-November, Haiti threatened to charge the Dominican Republic before international bodies with human rights violations committed during deportations.

Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis said he had received reports of racist treatment of deportees by Dominican immigration officers. He said deportees were forced to leave behind their personal effects and uncollected wages and that they were separated from their families upon being expelled.

In a New York Times op-ed piece, Haitian-American novelist Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz, a Dominican-American novelist, wrote that since an election is coming next year the toughened policy may have been an attempt to blame Haitian workers for inflation and unemployment.

Just before the Summit of the Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) group of states met in Santo Domingo (see NotiCen, 1999-12-09), organizers of a campaign called Haiti is the Responsibility of the International Community led a march through the city demanding that the US and other industrialized countries furnish enough aid to solve Haiti's economic problems and relieve the need for Haitians to emigrate for work.

Though a nongovernmental organization, the group reflects the government view that the international community expects the Dominican Republic to carry much of the burden of Haiti's poverty. Marchers carried signs that read "USA: 40% obese, Haiti: 40% undernourished."

The group issued a statement saying that Dominican stability is endangered by the indifference of the industrialized nations. "We are a poor nation and cannot bear the responsibility alone of helping Haiti overcome its crises," it said.

A breakthrough in the lingering immigration crisis came after Fernandez and Haitian President Rene Preval met November 26 during the ACP summit and agreed to convene a technical commission to resolve some of the procedural problems. Preval said he would send Fritz Longchamps to Santo Domingo to meet Foreign Minister Eduardo Latorre.

The agreement--Protocol of Understanding on Repatriation Mechanisms--is aimed at regularizing Dominican procedures for deporting undocumented Haitian workers and eliminating human rights abuses reported in the current procedures.

Under the protocol, the Dominican government agrees to carry out deportations only between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., before noon on Sundays and holidays, and only at designated border crossings. Dominican immigration authorities may not confiscate personal documents belonging to deportees.

Other points in the agreement bind Dominican officials to give deportees a copy of their deportation orders and to send a copy of the deportation list to the Haitian Embassy. The Dominican Republic also recognizes the "the deportees' inherent human rights."

Haiti agrees to improve its control over illegal emigration and recognizes the Dominican Republic's right to enforce its immigration laws.

Although the protocol does nothing to resolve the general problem of illegal Haitian immigration, Haiti's Interim Ambassador in Santo Domingo Guy Lamothe said it was a step forward and noted that a bilateral mixed commission that has been studying the problem has made no progress.

Latorre said his government is preparing a bill to modify the current migratory law, written in 1939. He said the proposed new language would include "clearer and more modern concepts in the legal framework to regulate the matter in all aspects of the national migratory reality."

On the more specific issue of citizenship for children born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents, Latorre sounded less positive. That is up to judicial authorities, he said, "and they haven't responded yet." In the meantime, such children remain in the category of "transient foreigners" and do not qualify for citizenship.

Meanwhile, the Haitian issue has taken its place in the Dominican election campaign. Historically, deportations increase after Haitian workers have finished working on the sugar harvest and before presidential elections, when they become an issue.

In November, election magistrates asked that all government officials and political parties reach an agreement on the migratory crisis and especially on the citizenship question. The legislature should clarify by law the exact meaning of "transient foreigner" as found in the Constitution, they suggested. (Sources: CNN, 11/20/99; The New York Times, 11/20/99, 11/21/99; Notimex, 11/15/99, 11/18/99, 11/26/99, 11/29/99, 12/01/99, 12/03/99, 12/09/99)
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Comment:REGION: DOMINICAN REPUBLIC & HAITI AGREE ON POLICY FOR DEPORTING UNDOCUMENTED HAITIAN IMMIGRANTS.
Publication:NotiCen: Central American & Caribbean Affairs
Geographic Code:5DOMN
Date:Dec 16, 1999
Words:824
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