Letter urging action on an immigration controversy involving the Dominican Republic and Haiti

December 16, 2013

His Excellency Anibal de Castro Rodriguez

Dominican Republic's Ambassador to United States

Your Excellency:

By way of introduction, for over 40 years I have been privileged to have extraordinary associations with the Dominican Republic and the Dominican people in the Diaspora. Over four decades ago I began celebrating a Mass for the Hispanic community in Washington that had really grown up around the local celebration of Our Lady of Alta Gracia. 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. 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, and it is in the same spirit 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.

By this unfortunate ruling of the tribunal, even Dominicans born to undocumented parents are to have their citizenship revoked. The ruling is retroactive to 1929; and it is estimated that 200,000 Dominican people of Haitian descent, including many who have had no real connection with Haiti for several generations will be affected. 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.

It is the destiny of the Dominican and Haitian peoples to share an island. 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. I was very encouraged to see the generous and heartfelt response of many Domincanos who hastened to come to the aid of their Haitian brothers and sisters affected by the terrible devastation of the earthquake. As a young priest in Washington, 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.

Every country has the right to control its own boundaries, but no one has the right to trample people's dignity and diminish their humanity. Being an American I have seen the ugly face of racism up close. Although we still struggle with the reality of racism and the terrible legacy that slavery has left in the United States, but I am encouraged that our government, civil organizations and Churches have worked together with the marked success to form a stronger and more just society. 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. The example of leaders like Martin Luther King and President Mandela points to the kind of resolve and humanity that is required to rid our world of the spiritual disease of racism.

At Christmastime the choirs of angels call on us to give glory to God and bring about peace on earth; and our courageous Quisqueyos can do both by breaking the chains that enslave their brothers and sisters of Hispaniola.

Please communicate to your government the concerns and disappointment of a priest who considers himself a friend to the people of the Dominican Republic. I pray that your leaders will have the wisdom and courage to redress these injustices that are being perpetrated on your own people.

With assurances of prayers and best wishes for you and your family at Christmas and throughout the New Year, I remain

Yours in Christ,

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley

Archbishop of Boston