Sunday, February 25, 2018

Seeking immigration benefits for the people

Your column “Citizenship, Dominican Republic-style” takes issue with recent actions undertaken by the Dominican Republic to enact a modern and transparent immigration policy, and to address long-standing weaknesses in the procedures for registering national and immigrant residents.

Far from disregarding its obligations and commitments, as you suggest, the Dominican government has shown a deep and zealous respect for the intrinsic rights of each person within the Dominican Republic and a recognition of their individual contributions to Dominican society.

For decades, the Dominican Republic experienced significant gaps in registration, documentation and identification of residents and foreigners. These shortcomings hindered the country’s ability to combat human trafficking, ensure the integrity of its territory and implement an effective and just migration policy.

Today, the country has put in place a revolutionary National Regularisation Plan to provide up to 500,000 irregular immigrants with a legal status. No other country in the region has embarked upon such an ambitious effort. Indeed, when it comes to Haitian migrants, the segment to profit the most from the initiative in the Dominican Republic, the situation is rather the opposite.

As recently as January, one Caribbean country rounded up a handful of illegal Haitian migrants and made a public issue of their deportation. Other regional partners continued deporting Haitians in the immediate aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, and put as much emphasis on broadcasting their intention to maintain the practice. Some countries, appealing to the frailty of their health systems, for example, formally turned down requests to take in a few Haitian wounded in the catastrophe. Most of our nearest neighbours routinely ignore agreements regarding the free movement of people which should exist amongst partner countries.

By contrast, the National Regularization Plan, launched in early June, will allow undocumented individuals in the Dominican Republic to acquire a regular immigration status and provides a path to citizenship after two years of regular residency. In addition, those who were born in the country but are not Dominican according to constitutional citizenship rules have been provided with an expedited route into the Plan by the recently passed law 169/14.

With this new law, approved unanimously by the Dominican Congress, the Dominican government fulfilled its commitment to address the situation of around 24,000 persons who were incorrectly or illegally issued Dominican birth certificates in the past. Those who were granted Dominican identity documentation despite not meeting the requisite criteria for Dominican citizenship and who have conducted their whole lives with a Dominican identity document, believing themselves to be Dominican, will now have their documents legalised and will enjoy all the benefits of Dominican citizenship despite their parents’ irregular status. This will allow for a fast, fair, and final end to any uncertainty surrounding their situation.

Although these actions will formalise the public status of these individuals, it is important to point out that migrants have thus far enjoyed virtually unrestricted access to public education and health care in the Dominican Republic, without the need to present documentation or prove their legal status in the country.

According to official government figures, 34,158 Haitian students received free education in the Dominican Republic in 2013. Overall about 18 per cent of the health budget is spent on care for foreign citizens (around 98 per cent of whom are Haitian), and in border-area hospitals, over 50 per cent of births are to Haitian mothers.

For example, in one Dominican public hospital in the city of Santiago, the number of Haitian women giving birth more than doubled between 2007 and 2013, from just over 10,000 to 23,744. Most will have recently crossed the extremely porous border to obtain services from the Dominican public system that the Haitian state is simply unable to provide its own citizens. Dominican health officials also note that Haitian patients are at a higher risk of costly complications given the lack of adequate pre-natal care available to them before they cross the border.

Many who comment on the situation of the island of Hispaniola neglect to report on a crucial aspect of the bilateral relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti: since November 2013, the two countries have been engaged in a historic dialogue that has generated a number of agreements and joint declaration on issues of fundamental importance.

Meetings at the highest level included discussions on security, the environment, agriculture, customs and tourism, amongst other themes. Most recently, on July 10, key agreements were reached on trade, including private sector representatives from both countries, and a decision was made to continue this work through the permanent Mixed Bilateral Commission. Importantly, migration and efforts to document Haitians by their government have also been on the agenda.

These talks, and the positive efforts on both sides of the border to seek sustainable solutions for the benefit of their peoples, show that the countries will continue to look toward the future together in spite of those who insist in perpetuating a sense of crisis between them.

Anibal de Castro

Ambassador of the Dominican

Republic in Washington, DC

Reginald Dumas’ two-part column Citizenship, Dominican Republic-style was published on July 2 and 4