People from the Dominican Republic were among the first responders when a monstrous earthquake shattered the lives of their neighbors in Haiti 5-1/2 years ago. The outpouring of compassion didn’t last. Decades of animosity fueled by racism and the economic disparity between the two countries that share an island seemed to deepen the divide. A year after the 2010 earthquake, the Dominican Republic resumed the process of deporting undocumented Haitians. In 2013, the Dominican Republic toughened requirements: anyone born after 1929 must show two forms of documentation of citizenship or be deported to Haiti. Some of the estimated 450,000 Haitian immigrants left Haiti as young children or, if they are among the thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent, never lived in Haiti. But they have no documentation to prove it. They can be thrown out of the country based on the blackness of their skin.
Human rights advocates say the harsh law is illegal because it leaves people stateless; furthermore, it’s had a devastating impact on people’s lives and a ripple effect on humanitarian groups trying to serve Haitians and deportees. Recent news reports state that the Dominican Republic has temporarily halted deportation of Haitian immigrants because of public outcry. We ought to remain vigilant of the situation in the Dominican Republic so that the country’s leaders don’t resume the draconian deportation process.
Meanwhile, more than 1,000 individuals who’ve already been kicked out of the Dominican Republic streamed into the border community of Grand-Bois, Haiti, asking for help at the ServeHAITI Health Center. Liz McDermott, a volunteer with ServeHAITI — which has ties to parishes in the Davenport Diocese — says many of the deportees have lived in the Dominican Republic for much or all of their lives. Some of them don’t even know the language of Haiti. But they may have family in the Grand-Bois region.
Liz says these deportees were picked up off the streets and deposited at the border with no chance to go to their homes in the Dominican Republic to find their families, pick up their belongings or money they may have had. “It’s a true humanitarian crisis that we are just now seeing the effects of at our clinic,” she told The Catholic Messenger. “We are trying to document these people and figure out how we can help them.” This is at the same time the clinic is striving to assist the impoverished Haitians already living in Grand-Bois to become self-sufficient.
Here in the United States we have our own immigration crisis and a Congress whose members remain stubbornly divided about addressing immigration reform and alleviating human misery. We cannot allow our government’s intransigence – and our own selfishness — to take us down the path of the Dominican Republic. As followers of Christ we are obligated to welcome the stranger and to ensure that stranger’s needs are met.
Pope Francis reminds us in his encyclical Laudato Si, on care of our common home: “We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference (52).”
We should insist on and advocate for just immigration policy in our United States in a letter-writing and email campaign to our senators and representatives. The U.S. bishops have provided a proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. View it online at (http://tinyurl.com/9l96gwc). Share that proposal with your elected members of Congress. By taking action, we can serve as role models for the Dominican Republic and other countries around the world. Everyone deserves a place, a state, a country, where we can flourish; a place we call home.