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Students debate citizenship policies in Dominican Republic

Event explores issue of deportation for Haitians

Students addressed issues of citizenship rights and deportation in a debate Thursday about Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

The debate, sponsored by the Haitian Student Association, Black Student Union (BSU) and Sigma Lambda Gamma Sorority, was argued by students from the class Rhetoric 354: Argumentative Theory.

In 2010 the Dominican Republic changed its constitutional law to grant citizenship only to those born on Dominican soil.

According to Harley Norton, a sophomore majoring in English, new laws passed since then have led to a humanitarian crisis among ethnic Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

“The decision by the Dominican Supreme Court leaves tens of thousands of Haitians in the country stateless and without basic services,” Norton said. “International law provides that no one can be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality and leave them stateless. The Dominican Republic has a responsibility to all its citizens.”

Ese Olumhense, the president of BSU, said she understood the plight of Haitian residents, but also the rights of native Dominicans.

“If you don’t have a birth certificate, why is this the Dominican Republic’s fault?” said Olumhense, a senior majoring in English. “145 of the world’s 194 countries do not apportion citizenship to children born of illegal immigrants, so the Dominican Republic is actually on firm legal footing.”

Olumhense said the Dominican Republic has done plenty to support the Haitian government, especially during recent natural disasters, but is being held to a double standard by Western governments.

“There are cases of American citizens, actual citizens, being deported to other countries. Why does this not receive a similar outcry?” she said. “If we’re going to question the Dominican Republic, why not question the United States, or England or other countries? Why is this one Latino country coming under such criticism?”

Although a majority of the audience, when asked to vote, did not support the Dominican government’s position, some said they understood Olumhense’s international interpretation.

“The Dominican Republic has its own rights, countries have their own independent rights and they deserve to make their own laws,” said Mohamed Bah, a junior majoring in economics. “It’s a very rational argument. However, just because it’s law, it doesn’t mean it’s right. Apartheid was the law in South Africa, but it didn’t make it right.”

Many students also expressed concern with discrimination against darker-skinned residents in the Dominican Republic. During the debate, the hosts showed a short PBS documentary about legal Haitian residents in the Dominican Republic who were harassed because of their skin color.

“People of Haitian heritage have been persecuted and discriminated against for many generations. The Dominican government clearly judges people by the color of their skin, and there is a clear racial hierarchy with black Haitian heritage people at the bottom,” Norton said.

Conrado Mota, an undeclared freshman and a Dominican-born student, said he thought both sides were thoughtful, but that the controversy did not have a simple answer.

“Only two sides were presented, but there can be many different opinions. It’s not a yes-or-no question, and there can be many solutions. People might come with out-of-the-box solutions. For example, I think if the law were revised to be more specific, then that would be a better solution,” he said.