Durbin: U.S. watching 'controversy' over migrants between Haiti, Dominican Republic | St. Louis Public Radio

Durbin: U.S. watching 'controversy' over migrants between Haiti, Dominican Republic

Jun 30, 2015

The U.S. will be monitoring the situation as thousands of Haitians leave or are deported from the neighboring Dominican Republic as it cracks down on migrants, according to U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois).

Durbin met with government officials during a visit to Haiti this past weekend, during which they discussed the border issues and how U.S. relief funds were used after the country's major earthquake.

The Dominican government set a deadline earlier this month for non-citizens to prove legal residency or be deported. That's under the country's immigration registration program, created to regulate the large influx of migrants from neighboring Haiti, which is a considerably poorer nation.

The law went into effect last year and gave non-citizens until June 17th to submit proof they had been in the Dominican Republic prior to October 2011. But many had trouble getting proper documentation from employers and both countries' governments.

Shortly after the deadline, Haiti's prime minister said the Dominican Republic's crackdown on migrants has created a "humanitarian crisis." Haitian President Michel said his country's resources are being stretched by the nearly 14,000 people who have already fled voluntarily or under force across the border, though the Dominican Republic says it has not yet begun deportations.

According to Durbin, there are some 600,000 Haitians or people of Haitan descent in the Dominican Republic, many of whom are affected by the law.

"We're trying to make sure as many of them are forced to leave or return to Haiti, that it is being done in a humane, orderly way," he said. "And so far, it has been. I don't want to assume it will continue, but I think the vigilance of the U.S will help achieve that."

Durbin also met with officials to learn how funds donated by the U.S. government and individual Americans were used to help Haiti following its devastating 2010 earthquake. 

An NPR-ProPublica investigation published earlier this month found little rebuilding has been done in Haiti with the $500 million raised by the Red Cross, though the organization disputes that. The federal agency USAID also has been criticized for its failure to build housing. 

During his visit, Durbin said he found some positives to point to, including facilities "serving some of the poorest people on this side of the globe. But he said a lot of the money sent to Haiti "really hasn't achieved what we've set out to do."

"When you're dealing with one of the poorest places on earth with a very, very weak government, and you then deal with one of the major natural disasters of our time, it is difficult to manage money effectively," he said. "There's no excuse for waste or corruption, but it happens. And what we've got to do is to make sure we minimize it, and try to hold those accountable who were responsible for that misuse."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.