Eduaro Selman, the Dominican consul of New York, revoked an award from Junot Diaz on Thursday because the writer publicly opposes the Dominican Republic's efforts to strip citizenship from people of Haitian descent.
The New York consulate said in a statement that it would repeal the “Order of Citizen Merit” distinction it extended to the Dominican writer in 2009 because “his attitude demonstrates that he is anti-Dominican.”
“We emphatically declare that the Dominican Republic has acted with transparency before the world in the implementation of these immigration measures,” Selman said in the statement. “There have been no cases of violation of human rights nor of statelessness among the Haitians or any other foreigners, contrary to what is said by the writer Junot Diaz, who has demonstrated himself to be anti-Dominican.”
A series of legal changes starting in 2004 has effectively eliminated birthright citizenship in the Dominican Republic. The country's 2010 constitution codified new restrictions on who could be considered a citizen, and a constitutional court ruling in 2013 applied those standards retroactively. Human rights groups estimate that the changes have left tens of thousands of people -- who have never touched Haitian soil and don't hold Haitian identification documents -- without a claim to Dominican citizenship.
The vast majority of the people made stateless by the changes are of Haitian descent and black, fueling charges from Diaz and others that racism and anti-Haitian sentiment have played a role in motivating the new rules.
“Isn't it time that the world tells the Dominican government that stripping people of their rights based on their ethnic background, setting up part of the citizenry for abuse and establishing an apartheid state is unacceptable?” Diaz wrote in a 2013 piece for The Los Angeles Times, which he co-authored with writers Mark Kurlandsky, Julia Alvarez and Edwidge Danticat, who is Haitian-American.
Diaz, along with Danicat and other authors of Dominican and Haitian heritage, held a series of meetings with members of Congress this week to push for a resolution condemning the Dominican citizenship policy, according to Dominican daily Listín Diario.
Dominican officials have bristled at criticism of their new citizenship and immigration laws.
Still, in response to widespread backlash, over the past two years the Dominican government has created and implemented a plan to restore citizenship to those who had it revoked. The plan also expedited the naturalization process for those who were born in the Dominican Republican but lacked proper documentation to prove it -- a widespread problem in the impoverished country.
But thousands of people found themselves unable to apply, citing the cost of obtaining materials needed to apply, bureaucratic problems getting papers in either the Dominican Republic or Haiti, and general confusion about the process.
“Saying there’s no human rights violations happening in the country is ludicrous,” Marselha Margerin, advocacy director for the Americas at Amnesty International, told The Huffington Post. “Just because the government has proposed a solution to the stateless issue they created in 2013 does not mean that the solution was efficient or that the problem has been solved."
Neither Selman nor Diaz responded to requests for comment.
CORRECTION: This article previously misspelled the last name of Edwidge Danticat.