By Renee Lewis / Al Jazeera America / Jan. 28, 2016
The Dominican Republic’s treatment of people of Haitian descent resembles the discrimination Jews have faced through their history, said a group of U.S. rabbis who visited the Caribbean island Thursday.
Hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian ancestry have been threatened with deportation by the Dominican government, which stripped them of their citizenship through a series of laws and court rulings beginning in 2013.
“This trip to the Dominican Republic strengthened my ability to stand with oppressed Dominicans of Haitian descent as an ally,” said Rabbi Ronit Tsadok, of Los Angeles’ IKAR synagogue, in a press release. “We will raise awareness about the human rights crisis in the Dominican Republic, which echoes some of the most difficult and disturbing chapters of Jewish history.”
Tsadok and nine other U.S. rabbis toured the Dominican Republic last week, part of a Global Justice Fellowship trip with the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) — a nonprofit humanitarian group.
The Dominican government says the deportation laws target undocumented Haitians who entered the country illegally. In practice, however, the law has extended to Dominicans of Haitian descent. Many trace their history in the Dominican Republic for nearlt 100 years, when the country allowed thousands of Haitians to cross the border to work in sugarcane and rice fields.
Subsequent generations of the immigrants were born on Dominican plantations, but many did not receive proper documentation.
Since the new citizenship laws were passed last year and fears of deportation rose, many rights groups have condemned the government and called on it to reverse its decision — a plea it has ignored. Some have argued that racism, not undocumented immigration, played a role in the policy change.
Since the rulings, anti-Haitian sentiment among Dominicans has increased. Last year, a Haitian man in Santiago was likely lynched. Dominicans have burned Haitian flags amid calls for the government to stop the “invasion” of Haitian workers, and graffiti reading “Haitians Get Out!” is a common sight in the capital, Santo Domingo.
Some Dominicans of Haitian descent have decided to return to Haiti amid the atmosphere of xenophobia and threat of deportation, according to AWJS, despite better living standards in the Dominican Republic.
“It’s creating an environment so intolerable that many see leaving the only country they’ve ever called home as the only solution,” Rabbi Joshua Lesser of Congregation Bet Haverim in Atlanta said in the release.
“The stories we heard from these activists are ones I will never forget, and I will bring them back to my community so we can mobilize American Jews to stand with those who are persecuted in the Dominican Republic,” Lesser said.