Mayor Bill de Blasio led elected officials and activists from New York City's Dominican and Haitian communities Sunday in calling for the Dominican Republic to halt its plans to deport noncitizens, saying residents of Haitian descent would be "torn from everything they know."
The Dominican government is "defying our common sense of humanity," de Blasio said at a news conference in Washington Heights, which has a large Dominican population. "It's clearly an illegal act, it is an immoral act, it is a racist act."
The Caribbean nation has pledged to expel noncitizens -- an edict that affects those from neighboring Haiti or those of Haitian descent -- if they did not meet a deadline last Wednesday to apply for legal residency. Officials said as of Friday about 290,000 had undergone the process, but only about 10,000 had the proper paperwork.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has expressed concern about the "stateless population" of 200,000 who are citizens of neither the Dominican Republic nor Haiti.
Human-rights workers said tens of thousands of people face deportation. Celso Perez, of Human Rights Watch, said at the event that expulsions are being "conducted mainly on the basis of appearance" and people with darker skin who "quote-unquote look Haitian" are being targeted.
The Dominican government and its policies are "vulnerable to the powerful rebuke of the international community," de Blasio said. Other pressure could eventually include a boycott by Americans of the Dominican Republic as a vacation or conference destination, de Blasio said.
New York City has 400,000 Dominican-born residents and 100,000 born in Haiti, so the conflict hits home, de Blasio said. City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who is of Dominican descent, and Councilman Mathieu Eugene, who is of Haitian descent, were among dozens of supporters at the news conference.
Outside the event, a handful of demonstrators, some carrying Dominican flags, defended the government's actions. The United States and European nations also deport people, and the conflict on the island of Hispaniola -- shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti -- is a matter of immigration and not racism, said Elisa Viloria, of the Dominican Advocacy Coalition.
Genesis Aquino, of Ahora/Now and the Coalition of Dominicans Against Racism, said the Dominican government had made the legalization process arduous for Haitians and has harassed those with darker skin whom they perceive to be Haitian.
De Blasio at the news conference said that for many facing expulsion, the "Dominican Republic is the place they've known as home . . . in many cases, for several generations." He demanded that the government additionally "stop the cultivation of fear" among noncitizens.
The mayor made his remarks at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center in Washington Heights. The center, he said, stands for the fight for justice.