Advocates Oppose Invitation to Former President of the Dominican Republic
Dear President Esteban and Dean Bartoli:
We, the undersigned, consisting of lawyers, elected officials, religious leaders, activists, and citizens from diverse nationalities write to express our vociferous protest and opposition to Seton Hall University's decision to invite Leonel Fernandez, former president of the Dominican Republic and architect of the current statelessness and human rights crisis in his country to speak at the University on September 23, 2015 to solidify a cooperative arrangement with you.
On September 23, 2013, two years to the exact date of Mr. Fernandez's upcoming appearance, the Dominican Republic Constitutional Court issued a ruling (TC 168/ 13) that stripped tens of thousands of people who were born in the Dominican Republic of their citizenship, creating the largest population of stateless people in the Western Hemisphere. The ruling and its intended consequences have been condemned by the international community and documented by reputable research institutions, international agencies and the media. Moreover, prominent Dominican constitutional scholars and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have denounced TC 168-13 as illegal. Notably, several members of the U.S. Congress and Senate have sent letters to Dominican President Danilo Medina, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry asking for the return of citizenship to those affected by TC 168-13. In August 2015, about 560 former Peace Corps volunteers and three former Peace Corps country directors who worked in the Dominican Republic called for the United States to suspend funding to Dominican security forces accused of committing human rights violations against Dominicans of Haitian descent. There is even a pending resolution in the New Jersey state legislature condemning TC 168-13.
In the face of such widespread condemnation, it is utterly appalling that on the second anniversary of the Constitutional Court ruling, no less, Seton Hall University would host on its campus a program featuring the architect of the Dominican government's anti-immigrant and xenophobic policies. Mr. Fernandez presided over the Dominican Republic's constitutional change in 2010 which ended birthright citizenship, as well as the 2004 Migration Law that redefined the meaning of "in transit" to include undocumented immigrants. It was these policy changes leading up to the 2013 ruling that codified discrimination allowing Dominican administrative officials to systematically deny identity documents to Dominicans of Haitian descent forcing them to live in the shadows. Moreover, after signing onto the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) in 1999, Mr. Fernandez blatantly ignored the IACHR 's ruling in Yeany Basico v. Dominican Republic which held that a parent's immigration status cannot determine the citizenship of the child.
Finally, last year, after fifteen years of litigating cases in the IACHR, the Constitutional Court rejected as unconstitutional the instrument subjecting the Dominican Republic to IACHR jurisdiction leaving the most vulnerable without a higher judicial body to appeal violations of their human rights. The Dominican Republic has every right to define its citizenship, but no objective observer can accept the implications of a retroactive application of birthright citizenship that immediately creates a class of stateless, marginalized people within their midst. Since this June alone, more than 60,000 people -Dominicans and Haitians alike -have been forcibly removed or fled the Dominican Republic under threat of violence.
Given these facts, it is beyond the pale that Seton Hall University, with no apparent conditions to address the country's human rights and refugee crisis, has reached an agreement with FUNGLODE an organization of which Mr. Fernandez is founder and president. This begs for a cautious approach towards the leaders of these tragic events and not an unconditional acceptance of the status quo. Seton Hall University should take this opportunity to advise its students, faculty and community about the steps it will take to temper the xenophobic actions of its new collaborative partners; anything less can only signify a callous indifference to human rights and dignity.
We thank you for your consideration of this letter and trust that you will forge a way to address these concerns.
Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York, Inc.
Haitian American Leadership Council
National Haitian American elected Officials Network
Coalition of Dominicans Against Racism
We Are All Dominican
Dennis Abel Benzan Vice Mayor, City of Cambridge, MA
Arelis M. Figueroa, Latino Ministry, The Riverside Church
Joseph M. Champagne, Jr., Former Mayor, South Toms River, NJ Ambassador for Peace, UPF/UN
Mark Kurlansky Author
Haitian American Lawyers Association of New Jersey
Haitian-Dominican Project - Columbia University
FUNTOSALUD International COLLECTIF 4 DECEMBRE
Daphne Campbell RN Florida State Representative District 108
Cassandre Theano National Association of Haitian Professionals
Haitian American Nurses Association of Greater New York
Charnette Frederic, MHA, LNHA Irvington Council President
Haitian American Committee
Rodneyse Bichotte NY Assembly Member
Florida Immigrant Coalition, Inc.
Garden State Bar Association
You can read the official letter here