Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley of Boston is lamenting a court ruling in the Dominican Republic that retroactively strips away citizenship from any person born after 1929 to parents without Dominican ancestry.
“It is the destiny of the Dominican and Haitian peoples to share an island,” Cardinal O’Malley said in a letter last month to the Dominican ambassador to the United States, Anibal de Castro. “Events of history have left their scars, but I believe that Dominicans and Haitians of goodwill long for a future of greater solidarity and friendship.”
“Please communicate to your government the concerns and disappointment of a priest who considers himself a friend to the people of the Dominican Republic,” the cardinal said.
His letter came in response to the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court ruling that the children of undocumented immigrants who were born in the country beginning in 1929 and who are registered as Dominican citizens will lose their status because their parents were “in transit” in the country.
The court’s decision could affect some 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent, including many who have had no ties with Haiti for generations.
A delegation from the governments of Haiti and the Dominican Republic will meet on Jan. 7 to discuss the issue of immigration, after negotiations between the two countries mediated by Venezuela broke off last November. Representatives from Venezuela, the United Nations, the European Union and the Caribbean Community will attend the talks as observers.
In his letter, Cardinal O’Malley recalled his work with the Hispanic community in Washington, D.C., which began more than 40 years ago.
“I worked with the Dominican community in Washington D.C. for 20 years, then for 10 years in the West Indies, and now in Massachusetts,” he said. “President Joaquin Balaguer honored me with the decoration, the Order of Cristobal Colon, for my pastoral work with Dominicans. I have always had a great affection for the Dominican Republic and their people.”
“It is in the same spirit,” the cardinal continued, “that I turn to you today to share my sadness at the Constitutional Tribunal's ruling that creates such hardship for so many people of Haitian extraction who live in the Dominican Republic, many of whom have been born in your country. Indeed, their hard work and dedication contribute much to the wellbeing of the country.”
“To be a person without a state, ‘a man without a country’ makes it nearly impossible to study, to get a decent job, to acquire insurance, to contribute to a pension fund, to get married legally, to open bank accounts and even to travel in or out of one's own country of origin,” he explained.
Recalling the help many Dominicans provided for Haitians affected by 2012 earthquake, Cardinal O’Malley stressed that many people of goodwill in both nations desire peace and solidarity.
“As a young priest in Washington,” he said, “I celebrated Mass for immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Haiti in the very same parish. I never saw any divisions or discrimination. The faith of the people and their common struggle to provide for their families united them in community.”
“At Christmastime we relive the events of Christ's life, beginning with the Holy Family's search for lodging in Bethlehem where there was no room in the inn. It is my hope that at this Christmas season the government and people of the Dominican Republic will reject these unjust rulings that cause so much pain and suffering,” the cardinal wrote.
“Every country has the right to control its own boundaries,” he pointed out, “but no one has the right to trample people's dignity and diminish their humanity.”
“I hope and pray that the government and people of the Dominican Republic will be inspired by the ideals of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that appears on your beautiful national flag.”