Warning of a worsening humanitarian crisis, Haitian and Dominican community leaders in Boston joined forces with a multi-ethnic coalition of immigration advocates yesterday on the steps of the Massachusetts State House to denounce large-scale deportations of Dominicans of Haitian descent from the Dominican Republic. The denationalization situation has been escalating in the Dominican Republuc since 2013, when a constitutional court ruling retroactively eliminated birthright citizenship laws, leaving many Dominicans of Haitian descent, many of whom are second or third generation Dominican, stateless.
Surrounded by colleagues holding signs that read “Stop Humanitarian Crisis in Dominican Republic,” State Senator Linda Dorcena Forry began the press conference with a sharp rebuke of the the Dominican government’s policies and a statement of solidarity with both the Dominican and Haitian people.
“I stand here today with our allies, calling on the government of the Dominican Republic to end the humanitarian crisis which it has created. The prospect of large-volume deportations is troubling, especially given the historic mistreatment of fellow Dominicans of Haitian ancestry. In addition to disrupting the lives of hundreds of thousands of hardworking people in the Dominican Republic, it is also creating hardship for many more in Haiti, which is not well equipped to handle the influx of refugees along its borders,” said Forry.
Congressman Michael Capuano joined the event, saying that “mass deportations are wrong, simply put.” Capuano stated that though the government in Washington is doing what they can, he is hopeful that more drastic action political action will not be necessary.
“If things don’t get better, there are other levers that I’ll be calling on to deal with the Dominican Government,” said Capuano. “We aren't there yet, my hope is that they hear the pleas of reasonable people, and that we don’t have to get into a fight, because the DR is also a place we have been proud to call our friend and our cooperating country,” he said. “This particular action is wrong, it needs to be stopped, and my hope is that the government of the Dominican Republic comes to their senses.”
Speaking on behalf of Mayor Martin Walsh, Alejandra St. Guillen, Director of the Office of New Bostonians, stated, “The City of Boston does not support the Dominican government actions that are resulting in statelessness, deportation, and departure of Dominicans of Haitian descent.” Like Forry and others, she asked that citizens of Boston reconsider any vacation plans they have to the Dominican Republic until the Dominican government reverses its current policies.
Cambridge City Councillor and Vice Mayor Dennis Benzan, who is of Dominican descent, said that the depotations are an affront to the people of the Dominican Republic.
“In the Dominican Republic, we have fought hard for democratic institutions, but the political nonsense that took place during the denationalization of the Haitian people is not democratic,” said Benzan. “I believe, and the Dominican people believe in strong, democratic institutions with strong values, strong ideals. But under those ideals, denationalization should not happen,” he said.
Benzan said he does not support an economic boycott until all other options have been exhausted.
“The ones who would be most affected by a boycott are the hardworking poor people of the DR. We have to be in conversation with everyone, including government officials, the State Department, our congressmen and women, so that we can figure out what is going to be in the best benefit for both the Dominican people and the Haitian people,” he said. “We don’t want to execute the prisoner, without finishing the case.”
Former state Rep. Marie St. Fleur said that the time has come for Haitian-Americans and their allies to use economic sanctions to buttress whatever federal diplomatic action is underway.
"We’ve heard the history. This is not a new issue, but this is a defining moment. People of Haitian descent have been suffering in the Dominican Republic for centuries. The question is, it’s happening on our watch today, what are we going to do about it? Talk is not enough. We’ve been talking," said St. Fleur.
"I am going to call on the spirit of Sonia Pierre, the activist who was born in the batey in the Dominican Republic, who fought for her nationality. She recognized herself as Dominican, embraced herself as Dominican. I think if she were here today, she’d say to us, the work has been going on, the work is not done. This is an economic issue that has been propelled to a human rights crisis, and the only way I think you fight an economic issue is to hit people in their pockets."
"We have no fight with the Dominican people. I don’t know a Haitian who doesn’t have some relative who is of Dominican descent, because we were all one island. Now it has shifted. There is a government who doesn’t like another part of the island," said St. Fleur. "When the Mayor’s office says that if you have any trips planned don’t do it, don’t do it. Because the only thing that is going to give a message is when there’s a stop. There’s diplomacy going on, and that diplomacy, bolstered by your economic pressure will get us some results."
Other speakers at the conference included State Representatives Dan Cullinane and Russell Holmes, Executive Director of the Irish International Immigration Center Ronnie Millar, and Brian Concannon, Executive Director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti (IJDH), which is based in South Boston.
Wesley Laine, a legal fellow at IJDH who recently visited the border between Haiti and the DR and interviewed several refugees and deportees, described the escalating racial violence against Dominicans of Haitian descent.
“One person I interviewed, his wife and children were Dominican, and his friends had been killed, houses were burned down in his neighborhood just because of the color of their skin,” said Laine. “Soldiers are searching for people, but also there are communities where it’s their neighbors who have turned against them.”