While many countries around the world are struggling with a distressingly large number of undocumented migrants, the Dominican Republic has concluded a program that will bring those with irregular status out of the shadows and into a legal system that guarantees their human rights, something which other countries have only aspired to accomplish. Over the past year and a half, this program consisted of two policies -- one for those born in the Dominican Republic and a regularization plan for foreigners -- that will provide documentation and a path to citizenship for over 360,000 people who were on the margins of the law.
The story of the individuals who receive a regular status and are on a path to citizenship is inspiring. They can now hold jobs, qualify for a full array of social services and be fully recognized by our legal system. When people receive documentation, they receive more than a piece of paper. They receive a passport to a new life.
To place our program into context with the U.S., consider that as a country with a population of about 10 million people, the Dominican Republic will carry out a program that is nearly equivalent to the U.S. providing legal status to the estimated 11 million undocumented persons residing in its territory.
While the status of every undocumented migrant has not been resolved and there is still much left to do in collaboration with the U.S. and international community, the Dominican Republic is moving forward with its commitment to promote human rights and implement its policies in a transparent manner with the utmost respect for international laws and practices.
There has been a great deal of misinformation circulating about our immigration and documentation policies, so I would like to provide information on what is happening in the Dominican Republic and detail our policies.
Since December 2013, our immigration laws were not enforced so that undocumented people could come forward without fear of deportation. During this time period, many people left the Dominican Republic for Haiti. These voluntary repatriations were prompted largely by the Dominican Government's declaration of amnesty for undocumented migrants who chose this course: voluntary emigrants are entitled to apply to return to the Dominican Republic via legal channels.
Recently, the Dominican Republic began enforcing its immigration laws, which includes deportations. 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. It is important to note that the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic has commended our commitment to transparency and immigration protocols.
Let me be clear about our policies and what is happening:
- No one born in Dominican territory will be subject to expulsion or deportation.
- Protocols have been established to ensure that immigration authorities investigate and handle each case on an individual basis in order to prevent unjust expulsion, family separation or uprooting.
- Unaccompanied minors will never be subject to deportation.
- No member of the police is allowed to stop and search individuals in public spaces without the presence of an immigration official during an authorized operation.
- At no time will indiscriminate and collective deportations be made. This has not happened in the decades of the nation's democratic life and will not happen in the future.
- The Dominican Government condemns all acts that target migrants, including those of Haitian descent, and will investigate and prosecute those who have violated the rights of migrants. We will respond to any problems in the application of the law to ensure the rights of everyone are respected and enforced.
- Even though the regularization plan has expired, our law still includes a path for irregular migrants to obtain a residency permit and legal status.
- Our citizenship policies adhere to international norms: the vast majority of countries around the globe do not offer citizenship to everyone born in their territory. The Dominican Republic's policies are similar to European nations and its neighbors in the Caribbean.
I believe that our policies will be of enormous benefit to migrants of Haitian descent by giving them a legal status that they previously did not have. We have worked tirelessly with the international community and our neighbor, Haiti, to provide documentation to irregular residents. But we are not a large country and have limited resources. The Dominican Republic wants what is best for the Haitian people but we need the direct involvement of the U.S. Government and international community to work towards Haiti's sustainability and development.
Safeguarding and respecting human rights is at the center of the Dominican Republic's immigration and documentation policies. After a broad and public consultation process with civil society organizations, the Dominican Republic is currently preparing a National Human Rights Plan that aims to significantly increase the protection and promotion of human rights in our country while providing equal rights and equal opportunity for all. This plan addresses discrimination, gender equality, civil rights and labor rights. It also contains specific language dedicated to protecting the rights of minorities and vulnerable groups including women, migrants, LGBT individuals, the elderly, people with disabilities and victims of human trafficking. When this plan is signed into law, the Dominican Republic will become the only Caribbean country to have a human rights plan under the Vienna Convention on Human Rights.
As part of our commitment to transparency, our president has stated that all members of the international community are welcome in our country. In the coming months, we look forward to collaboration with and assistance from NGO's and any governments, especially the United States.