A Letter from the Editors: Aidan & Amani Kill Your Vacation Vibes

Aidan Campbell (3L) & Amani Rauff (3L)

Surprising no one, this year’s grad trip will be at an all-inclusive Carribean resort. The annual spectacle of several dozen law students, pale from a winter under florescent lights, sunning their exam-soft bodies on a tropical beach, a drink in one hand and a three-year-old bestseller we’d really been meaning to get to in the other, is a tradition that stretches back at least to the days when Lord Denning set his powdered wig aside to delight in some summertime beach volleyball.

This year, the Class of 2018 is headed to the Dominican Republic, a destination that should give us pause. In 2014, a decision of the country’s constitutional court declared that children born to so-called “migrants in transit” would lose their birthright citizenship and have to register with the government under a “regularization” program. The program was run in a manner widely condemned as purposefully inaccessible, and those who were unable to register by a July 2015 deadline are now considered removable. This means that thousands of Black Dominicans without Haitian citizenship are effectively stateless.

After more than 50,000 forced deportations, a further 135,000 Black Dominicans fled into Haiti in the year following the end of registration. Most are now living in temporary housing. Though many remain in the DR, they are without status and vulnerable to summary deportation. Human rights groups and journalists continue to report on checkpoints where officials check the papers of only those who look Haitian. This has ultimately led to an increased level of harassment and discrimination in a society already built on a racial caste system.

This is not to suggest that the situation in the DR is uniquely horrible. Immigration authorities targeting those who cannot establish their Dominican bona fides through overt racial profiling is just one instance of a pervasive anti-blackness that infects all countries complicit in the African slave trade. The retroactive denial of citizenship even echoes recent, thankfully abandoned, efforts by our own government to rescind citizenship of dual nationals convicted of terrorism offences.

Every vacation destination is also a country with a particular history and social reality. No country exists without some great unresolved crime at its core. However, this campaign of administrative ethnic cleansing is exactly the kind of creeping legalistic horror that we, as soon to be lawyers, have an ethical duty to guard against.

By the end of April we will all need a break, but being on vacation does not remove us from the world—as much as it might feel that way at an all-inclusive resort. We are still collectively accountable for what we condone or promote in the way we choose to celebrate our accomplishments.

This is not a call for a boycott, but for reflection. Be informed. Learn about where you’re going. What you do after that is up to you. Maybe you don’t go. Maybe you go, enjoy yourself, and when your housecleaner is a black woman of Haitian descent, understand what she’s up against and tip exceedingly well out of guilt (or out of an ideological commitment to direct cash transfers being the great social leveler). We each have to decide, in light of the information we have, what our ethical duties are.

So, go forth and get shitfaced, but let this inform your tripand, later, your lawyering.

For the facts and figures behind this article please see:

Human Rights Watch – World Report 2017

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights – Report on the Situation of Human Rights
in the Dominican Republic

For more on the troubled history of ethnic cleansing in the and the Dominican Republic see:

Abby Phillip “The bloody origins of the Dominican Republic’s ethnic ‘cleansing’ of Haitians” Washington Post, June 17, 2015  

Edward Paulino “DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Bearing Witness to a Modern Genocide”, Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies, Spring – Fall 2016