(A police officer stands guard as Dominicans of Haitian descent protest outside the Constitutional Court in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013. (AP Photo/Manuel Diaz))

Junot Diaz lashes out against Dominican Republic’s “anti-immigrant” stance as UN weighs in

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged the Dominican Republic on Thursday “to rapidly take steps to restore the nationality of . . .  tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their nationality, rendering them stateless.”

Santiago Canton, director of the RFK Partners for Human Rights and executive secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, spoke to NBC Latino from the Dominican Republic as part of a human rights delegation which had gone to investigate the recent decision of the country’s Constitutional Court. Canton said he agrees with the United Nations statement.

“If you wake up and there is a petition from the U.S. Supreme Court saying all people born of undocumented parents could lose their citizenship that’s what is happening,” said Canton. “There are thousands of people who have been Dominican, with Dominican passports, for eight decades; now the government is telling them no, you are not Dominican. From an international law perspective, that is discriminatory and arbitrary.”

The recent court ruling declared that those born in the Dominican Republic are only granted citizenship if at least one of their parents was a legal resident, and this should apply to anyone born before 2004. The government defends the ruling,  saying anyone who can prove certain conditions can apply for citizenship.

The U.N. statement comes as Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Junot Díaz publicly criticized the Dominican government for the “sentencia”, or court decision. Diaz came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic when he was 6 and is an American citizen.

In a phone interview with NBC Latino, Diaz said it is a “horrifying, tragic irony that a country that has sent so many immigrants into the world who have suffered similar types of policies and types of stigma is victimizing its own immigrants.”  Diaz criticized the court ruling in English and Spanish on his Facebook page, which elicited a rebuke from a Dominican government official.

Jose Santana, Dominican Republican ambassador and executive director of the country’s International Advisory Committee on Science and Technology, wrote an open letter to the novelist. “To me you are no more than a fake and overrated pseudo intellectual, assuming his role in the gears of the system.”

Recently at a rally, Dominicans who support the court’s ruling criticized the international outcry.

“The hypocritical international community which offered aid to Haiti, never kept their promises . . . and intends that we Dominicans should assume responsibility for a failed state,” stated jurist Juan Manuel Castillo Pantaleon.

And the archbishop of the Dominican Republic’s capital of Santo Domingo, Cardinal Nicolas De Jesus Lopez Rodriguez, expressed similar sentiments about the concerns raised by other countries.

“International organizations don’t rule here,” he said to reporters, according to The New York Times. “I don’t accept anybody coming here to decree anything. No country, not the United States, not France, nobody. Here, we are in charge.”

But novelist Diaz  told NBC Latino that the ruling is more than a political formality. “When all the talk is said and done, if anyone does what I do, ride the buses out to the frontera (border), you would see how difficult and agonizing the DR makes it for Haitian Dominican immigrants.”

Diaz also fought back against the criticism that he was meddling in internal Dominican Republic affairs.

“In the DR, they want the money that we Dominican immigrants bring. You can’t have one or the other.  What they don’t seem to want is our insight or our politics. Your dollars are welcome, your remittances, but not your political insights,” said Diaz.

“In fact, you can’t get one without the other.”

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