US must speak loudly on DR crisis

The international community is speaking out against the Dominican Republic’s reckless immigration crackdown that is targeting people of Haitian descent. Editorial boards, human rights groups, and a few key political leaders here in the United States — including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and New York’s Bill DiBlasio— are putting their own pressure on the DR to adhere to international norms and back away from wholesale deportations.

But an important voice has been missing from the dialogue— at least in the public realm: The Obama administration has remained silent about the Dominican Republic’s wrong-headed policy.

That posture needs to change.

Behind the scenes, the Reporter has been told, there is communication going on between our State Department and the Dominican government. While these private caution flags may have helped to stave off threatened large-scale expulsions, it certainly has not stopped the flow of people — perhaps as many as 31,000 in the last few weeks, by some estimates— from the DR into Haiti. Tens of thousands more could be next.

The Organization of American States (OAS) and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states have issued strong statements taking the Dominican government to task for its actions. The OAS has dispatched a team to the DR to observe the border activity and check on Haitian claims that many of the deportees are actually Dominicans who are of Haitian descent, not illegal immigrants. The CARICOM countries — including Haiti— issued a sharp rebuke at their summit on July 5, voicing “abhorrence and outrage with respect to the treatment of Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic.”

Barbados Prime Minister Freundel Stuart made it plain: “We cannot condone behavior that, in our view, enshrines barbarity into the constitutional practices of the Dominican Republic.”

In this context, our own government’s muted response to the mounting crisis is deeply disappointing. Of course, the United States should refrain from injecting itself into the internal politics of other states without carefully weighing the consequences. But what is happening along the border of the Dominican Republic and Haiti has become a pressing international human rights matter and it is one that demands the attention of the hemisphere’s most important power.

It is plainly in the interest of the United States to take a position on the side of decency, humane treatment, and law and order. All of these elements are in play in this current impasse. Our government needs to be more assertive in making it clear to the Dominican leadership — and in a public fashion— that our leadership does not condone or accept the mass expulsions of a targeted group of people.

We hope that Secretary of State John Kerry will take concrete action to make it clear that our government is in accord with the CARICOM states and other human rights organizations in condemning the Dominican Republic’s current trajectory.