Proposed Dominican Republic immigration law gets mixed reaction

SANTO DOMINGO Fri May 16, 2014 5:43pm EDT

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SANTO DOMINGO (Reuters) - Proposed legislation offering a path to citizenship for tens of thousands of Dominican-born children of immigrants met mixed reactions on Friday from human rights groups, with some saying it does not protect enough people who could lose citizenship due to a court ruling.

President Danilo Medina sent a bill to Congress on Thursday that would provide documentation to some children of immigrants and give permanent residency to others with the opportunity to apply for citizenship.

In a letter that accompanied the bill, Medina said the legislation would help create "a country without exclusion and without discrimination."

Congressional leaders and members of the influential business community released statements saying they supported the measure as a solution to a long-standing problem.

Dominican officials have been criticized as xenophobic and racist since a high court ruling last year that stated children born in the country to undocumented immigrants were not automatically entitled to citizenship.

The court ordered the civil registry to audit birth records dating back to 1929, stripping documentation from those who did not qualify, even if they had previously been issued papers.

Human rights groups said as many as 200,000 people or more could be made stateless, most of them children of migrants from Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.

The Denationalized Peoples Solidarity Committee, made up of Dominican human rights and immigrants rights groups, called the proposal "a victory" in a statement released on Friday.

"This is an effort by the government to find a just and humane solution," the statement said.

However, the group said it still believed the court ruling was unconstitutional.

The legislation would create different categories. Those born between 1929 and 1997 with proper documentation will be granted full citizenship; those born between 1997 and 2010 will need to apply for citizenship; and those born 2010 or later, or those who have no legal documents, will be given the opportunity to apply for naturalization after 10 years.

"This resolves the problem for only a limited number with documents," said Santiago Canton, director of human rights at the Washington-based Robert F Kennedy Center for Human Rights, one of several international groups that have criticized the court ruling.

Canton said as many 200,000 people are living in the country without documentation.

"There should be no difference for those having documents or not having documents," he said.

(Editing by David Adams and David Gregorio)

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