This Sunday, May 15th, tens of thousands of people in the Dominican Republic will be unable to exercise their basic right to vote in their country’s elections.
Many of those unable to vote are Dominicans of Haitian descent, a group facing a long history of racism and discrimination in their country.
Through a series of laws and court rulings, the Dominican Republic has stripped citizenship from more than 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent because of their Haitian ancestry. These people, some of whom can trace their families’ presence in the Dominican Republic back more than 85 years, have had their citizenship revoked from the only country they’ve ever known as home. They’re now guaranteed no civil rights, no freedom of movement, no right to due process in any court in the world, no access to essential government services, health care or education, and nowhere to call home. And they’re also facing violence, deportation, detention and exile.
Many Dominicans of Haitian descent have been disenfranchised in Sunday’s upcoming elections because of the arbitrary bureaucratic hurdles that are preventing them from being able to get the necessary documents to vote. At least 45,000 people who are eligible to vote will be unable to do so because the government has not provided them with the proper ID documents on time. Ninety-five percent of the people in this group are Dominicans of Haitian descent.
AJWS has been working to address this statelessness and voter suppression crisis in the Dominican Republic.
AJWS staff, along with two of AJWS’s Global Justice Fellows, Rabbi Joshua Lesser and Rabbi Cindi Enger, met with members of Congress in March to urge them to take a stand against the crisis in the Dominican Republic.
We are proud that Representative Schakowsky and 21 other representatives heard our voices: earlier this week, they sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to urge the State Department to press for fair elections in the Dominican Republic. The letter expresses concern over the possible disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent in the upcoming election.
Below is an excerpt from the letter:
“We urge the State Department to request clarity from the Dominican government regarding the alarmingly low numbers of new voter registrations.
According to figures released by the Junta Central Electorale (JCE- Central Electoral Board), voter registration in the Dominican Republic has grown by only 4 percent for 2016, whereas typical annual growth is 12-16 percent. Civil society organizations in the Dominican Republic have reported that many Dominicans of Haitian descent who are eligible to vote have not received voter registration documents, and they believe that the drop in the voter registration numbers is due to systematic voter suppression targeting Dominicans of Haitian descent.
The State Department should urge the Dominican Republic to clarify the current low voter registration numbers and detail what steps the government is actively taking to combat voter suppression and ensure that Dominican citizens of Haitian descent can vote in the May 15 election.”
Representative Schakowsky also included a quote from AJWS’s incoming president Robert Bank in her press release. Robert commented:
“We call on the United States to support monitoring of the upcoming elections in the Dominican Republic in order to ensure that all communities have the chance to participate in the democratic process. The Dominican government is disenfranchising Dominicans of Haitian descent by using bureaucratic measures to block them from obtaining the required identification necessary to vote, which will particularly affect local elections, where contests are decided by an incredibly small margin of votes. This kind of voter suppression effectively excludes Dominicans of Haitian descent from the political life of the country – another step by the Dominican government to delegitimize this community.”
As the U.S. watches the outcome of the Dominican Republic’s elections on Sunday, we must remember the oppression and statelessness unfolding in our own backyard. This deeply disturbing humanitarian crisis is occurring fewer than 800 miles from our shores. We must share the stories of the 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent who are suffering today because they have been deemed to be less-than-human.