President Obama has been very critical of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's threat to arrest and send home millions of undocumented immigrants, but his administration has said little about a deplorable deportation program affecting Dominican-born Haitians, the largest stateless population in the Western Hemisphere.
In 2010, the Dominican Republic amended its constitution to deny citizenship to anyone born in the country who didn't have at least one parent who was born there too. Overnight, 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent were stripped of citizenship. The country's Supreme Court upheld the amendment in 2013, and in the past year more than 60,000 people have been deported.
Some deportees moved into pop-up shantytowns on Haiti's border without anyone to contact on that side of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Neither did they speak Creole, as Haitians do; Dominicans speak Spanish. Quener Joseph, a Philadelphian of Haitian descent, says "a lot of kids with ID now can't go to high school, definitely not college. They can't open a bank account or buy a car. It's shameful, and humiliating."
The Dominican Republic did allow a brief period in which some of the affected population could apply for citizenship, but that window closed in June 2015. The United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have spoken out against the Dominican Republic's actions. In response, it has dropped out of the IACHR.
The U.S. State Department has condemned the citizenship ruling, but James Brewster, the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, has resisted appeals to call it a human rights violation. Still, the United States, which provides the Dominican Republic with millions of dollars in military aid each year, could apply more pressure for change.
In a sense, the United States is complicit in the Caribbean nation's immigration policies in that it provides training for the Dominican National Police and its border patrol. It has even deployed U.S. border patrol agents to help stem the illegal flow of immigrants from Haiti into its neighbor.
A better way to stop so many Haitians from fleeing their country would be for the United States to make a greater investment in the Haitian economy to produce jobs. At the very least, it could support expatriate organizations such as the Haitian Coalition of Philadelphia in their efforts to improve the quality of life in Haiti.
Just as Obama took a new approach with another poor Caribbean nation, Cuba, he should help Haiti, which has never recovered from its 2010 hurricane. Tell the Dominicans they risk losing U.S. aid by employing an apparently racist immigration policy that punishes Dominicans of Haitian descent.