Rangel Clarifies Comments on Dominican Immigration Dispute

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Last week, Rep. Charles Rangel visited the Dominican Republic, meeting with the president and several other dignitaries and stopping by the Dominican legislature. “I’m very proud to serve the Washington Heights community with a significant Dominican population that continues to make a vibrant and rich cultural and economical contribution to our Congressional District,” Rangel said of the trip, which came as he gears up for another primary battle against State Sen. Adriano Espaillat, who is trying to become the first Dominican-American member of Congress.

It also came as the DR faces international scrutiny over a court ruling last year that, according to the Boston Globe, “ruled that citizenship could be granted only to those born to one Dominican parent since 1929, legalizing retroactive denial of citizenship.” Added the Globe in December: “Now an estimated 200,000 Dominican citizens of Haitian descent may be people without a nation.”

Until now, Rangel has stressed the need for Haiti and the Dominican Republic to hash out a solution to the dispute. But during his trip, Rangel visited the court that made the ruling; an account in El Nuevo Diario paraphrases Rangel as saying the decision “has been very positive for the high court and the country by the attention has raised” and quotes him as saying, “Many people will need to understand that you are not responsible for having drafted the Constitution, but merely to interpret it to enforce it” while praising the “talent, patience and wisdom with which you have handled this issue.”

Others have not described the court’s actions in such laudatory terms. “An indeterminate but very significant number of Dominicans, estimated by various sources at more than 200,000 people, have been arbitrarily deprived of their nationality as a result of the ruling. Consequently, these individuals have seen their right to legal personhood violated, and they live in a state of extreme vulnerability,” the Organization of American States wrote in a recent report. “This situation disproportionately affects persons of Haitian descent, constituting a violation of the right to equal protection without discrimination.”

According to the Daily News, Espaillat denounced the ruling. “This is all about targeting the Haitians,” he told the paper. “Dominicans here need to press for a national debate on this injustice. You can’t be ‘born in transit’ when your parents have been there for 40 years.” Since then, the Dominican government has said it will resolve the issue through legislation, but details have been few, as reports of discrimination mount.

In response to questions from City Limits (our past coverage of immigration and demography has touched on both the Haitian and Dominican communities in New York), Rangel released a lengthy statement indicating that he, too, is concerned about the migrants who’ve been hurt by the ruling. Here’s the statement in full:

“I have always shared the concerns of my constituents who fear that their loved ones in the Dominican Republic might be at risk for deportation or considered stateless after living there all their lives. It would be outrageous for any country to leave law abiding residents in limbo and vulnerable to exploitation. Our own nation currently grapples with the effects of such policies. This is why I have worked over the past year especially, to advocate for those who have the most to lose: the hard working migrant workers and their families.

Over the past several months, I have been actively promoting the dialogue and fellowship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti by facilitating bi-national discussion to address their migration issues. I have repeatedly called on the Dominican Republic to take appropriate steps to mitigate their ruling regarding migrants deemed ‘in transit’ to ensure that the Dominicans of Haitian descent and migrants are treated fairly within Dominican laws and international norms.

Some of those meetings that I have held includes Dominican Republic Ambassador to the U.S. Anibal de Castro, Minister of the Presidency Gustavo Montalvo, Legal Advisor of the Presidency Cesar Pina Toribio, Minister of Interior and Police Jose Ramon Fadul, President of the Dominican Central Electoral Board Roberto Rosario, and Haitian Ambassador to the U.S. Paul Altidor.

I am pleased that the Haitian and Dominican governments have recently held discussions, and I will continue to be helpful in any way I can to the people of both countries. My recent meetings with President Martelly and President Medina have provided me with the hope that just solutions will be finalized.

I only wish to contribute to improving the relationship between the two nations that I share deep, long, and meaningful friendships with. We all share the common goal of developing sound policies that will not only strengthen their ties but also the lives of their people. I will continue to encourage their efforts with the expectation that migrant workers, immigrants, and citizens will feel safe and secure in their status regardless of what side of the border they live.”