Seven US senators, including the pair from Massachusetts, urged Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday to intercede in the citizenship crisis in the Dominican Republic, expressing concern that thousands of Dominican-born people of Haitian descent still are not recognized as citizens.
In a letter to Kerry, Senators Edward J. Markey, Elizabeth Warren and five other Democrats said the Dominican government proposed a “fair solution” by creating a path to citizenship after a 2013 court ruling stripped birthright citizenship from the children of unauthorized immigrants, mainly from neighboring Haiti. But, the letter said, less than a third of the 210,000 Dominicans eligible for that citizenship applied for it.
Critics of the citizenship program have said the requirements are so cumbersome that many cannot gather the hospital records and other documents needed to apply.
“In this context, we respectfully ask that you work with the Dominican government to ensure that the process is timely, efficient, and inclusive of everyone who was born in the country,” the senators wrote in the letter, adding that it was crucial that undocumented citizens “are provided a solution that guarantees their right to live in the only country they have known since their birth.”
Last month Kerry said through a spokeswoman that he was monitoring the situation and had stressed the importance of upholding human rights for all involved.
The senators also expressed concern for some 36,000 people of Haitian descent who have voluntarily left the Dominican Republic in recent months, an exodus they said has “overwhelmed” authorities in Haiti, one of the hemisphere’s poorest nations.
Dominican officials have said that they will not deport anyone who is entitled to Dominican citizenship, but they say the government also must properly screen applicants before granting them citizenship.
Ambassador Jose Tomas Perez said in a statement that his government was determined to act transparently and was looking “forward to a substantive dialogue with members of Congress and the State Department on this important matter.’’
He said the Dominican Republic is committed to working with the international community “to implement a regularization program and immigration policies that aim to give a regular status to everyone in the Dominican Republic.’’
The ambassador added “our government is implementing the same immigration rules that exist in any society governed by the rule of law, while recognizing each individual’s human rights.’’
The issue has drawn international attention, including in Massachusetts where immigrants from Haiti and the Dominican Republic are some of the largest groups of foreign-born residents in the state.
Also signing the letter were senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Bill Nelson of Florida, Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, Christopher Coons of Delaware, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.Maria Sacchetti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.