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Dominican Republic deportation controversy

By Rosa Duarte, Reporter, RDuarte@wfmz.com
Published On: Oct 07 2013 09:05:56 PM CDT
Updated On: Oct 08 2013 06:13:17 AM CDT

Dominican deportation controversy

Immigration reform may be a hot button issue in the U.S., but a recent court ruling in the Dominican Republic may top the list when it comes to controversial immigration laws.

Last week, the country's constitutional court came down with a ruling that basically would take away the potential right to citizenship from close to 300,000 people.

The ruling impacts individuals who are of Haitian descent.

It bars them from ever becoming legal residents or citizens of the Dominican Republic and it's a ruling that would impact generations dating back to 1929.

For one father-daughter duo from the Lehigh Valley who work with immigrants in the Dominican Republic, the ruling is unjust.

Bethlehem native Fred Rooney and his daughter Caitlin are currently working with organizations in the Dominican Republic to help the underprivileged, including migrant workers.

“For many many decades, Haitians have traveled to the Dominican Republic to work in sugar fields and banana plantations and really more recently in a huge booming construction sector,” said Fred Rooney, director of the International Justice Center for Post-Graduate Development at the Touro Law Center in New York.

After the devastating earthquake in 2010, the influx of Haitian immigrants to the Dominican Republic skyrocketed, causing concern about the toll it would take on the country's economy.

Caitlin Stilin-Rooney says she's seen firsthand the animosity against Haitian immigrants.

She currently lives in Jimaní, a town just one mile from the Haitian border and is working on a communal banking system for migrant workers through ADOPEM, a non-for profit organization.

“So you have the poorest region of the Dominican Republic bordering the poorest country in the western hemisphere and historically there's been a lot of conflict between Haitians and Dominicans,” she said.

The court's decision could affect close to 300,000 people, the bulk of them Dominican-born of Haitian descent.

“Just as our laws are changing in order to protect our borders from people coming in, the Dominicans are doing the same thing. Only difficulty is that it seems to be such a drastic measure that people from all over the world are questioning whether or not it's either legal or fair,” said Fred Rooney.

The ruling is final and cannot be appealed. However, there are several lawsuits being filed and even the United Nations has taken a stance against the decision.