Accusation that immigration agent raped Haitian girl sparks outrage in Dominican Republic

The immigration agent appeared at the house in a popular tourist haven in the eastern Dominican Republic at the crack of dawn. After inviting himself in, he asked the 14-year-old Haitian girl if her parents were home.

She replied that they were out working. The officer told her she was pretty and asked for a kiss, the girl said in a video account provided to the Miami Herald. The teen, whose face is blurred in the footage, said she rebuffed his request and he left. Soon after, she said, the agent returned to the house, removed her clothes and forced himself on her.

Asked in the video if the immigration agent had raped her, the girl, in soft-spoken Spanish said, “yes.”

The rape accusation by a Haitian minor has ignited a furor in the Dominican Republic, where for the second time in less than a year a Haitian migrant is accusing a Dominican immigration agent of sexual assault. In September, authorities arrested an immigration agent accused of raping a Haitian woman in front of her 4-year-old son after she was detained at the international airport in Santo Domingo. The woman was on her way to Nicaragua and was placed in a detention cell, where the alleged assault occurred.

Dominican authorities, responding swiftly to the latest incident, are investigating the rape accusation. The alleged assault is said to have taken place April 5 in Bávaro, a beach resort near the famous Punta Cana tourist area. The Dominican Republic and Haiti share the island of Hispaniola.

The General Directorate of Immigration said it is questioning agents who participated in immigration raids on the day in question. Julio Caraballo, the agency’s communications director, told the Herald Friday that the agency does not have records of an operation taking place at the time frame the 14-year-old girl she was assaulted. Under Dominican law, immigration raids take place between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. unless a judge orders an exception, he said.

“If an investigation determines that it was an immigration inspector, he will be suspended and turned over to the justice system,” Caraballo said.

Homero Figueroa, spokesman for Dominican President Luis Abinader, said Friday the government “energetically rejects any act that violates human rights and threatens the integrity of people in our territory, regardless of their nationality or condition.”

“This act will not go unpunished... Respect for the rights of all national or foreign inhabitants of the Dominican Republic must be an absolute priority,” a government statement said.

The immigration agency’s director, Venancio Alcántara, met with a prosecutor investigating the case and said if an immigration officer committed the assault, there “will be no mercy.”

The Dominican Republic has come under increased scrutiny for its treatment of Haitian migrants, and the Abinader administration has been accused of systematically violating their human rights.

Both Haitian and Dominican activists denounced the latest incident and said authorities need to go further. Edwin Paraison, a former consul of Haiti in the Dominican Republic and executive director of Zile Foundation, which fosters friendship between the two nations, said the group wants to see human-rights training for immigration officers, police and anyone who comes in contact with migrants.

“We recognize that in this latest case involving a minor, the Dominican Republic reacted quickly,” he said. “At the same time, it’s important for [immigration agents] to have human rights training to prevent these kinds of grave incidents.”

‘Justice for my daughter’

The incident was reported by the young girl’s mother, who filed a complaint. A police report obtained by the Herald says the teen is a student and has a 7th grade education. The mother said the incident took place around 5 a.m. at their home.

“Someone dressed as a guard wearing a hood entered our residence and once there grabbed my daughter by the neck and asked her for a kiss,” the mother said. “She replied she was a minor…he tore her dress and removed her shorts and sexually violated her without her consent and without protection.”

The mother provided police explicit details of the incident.

The mother has been accompanied throughout the process by Santiago Molina, a Dominican human-rights activist. He said that after the rape, the officer took off after hearing the voices of neighbors. Molina, who has launched a campaign to get justice for the family, said Haitians in the Dominican Republic who face abuses “are afraid of immigration, afraid of the police, afraid of the government. They live constantly in fear” .

“This lady said, ‘I want justice for my daughter’,” he said about the mother. “And I said, ‘I’m going to accompany you to the public ministry and we’re going to take this to its ultimate consequences.’”

Molina said the incident occurred while immigration officials were conducting a search in a neighborhood where many Haitians live. The perpetrator, he said, threatened the girl to keep her quiet and later took her into custody in a detention center for Haitian migrants in Benerito, a town far away near La Romana, another tourist hotspot.

Molina said the incident is not an isolated case in the eastern Dominican Republic, where he lives and advocates for human rights and better treatment of Haitians. He said he has spoken with at least one other Haitian woman who said she was sexually assaulted by immigration officials about eight months ago. Molina said victims don’t speak up because they are often undocumented and afraid the goverment will deport them back to Haiti.

The case comes at a time where anti-Haitian sentiment in the Dominican Republic is being pushed by right-wing factions that largely support Abinader, who will be up for re-election later this year.

Abinader has positioned himself as a friend of Haiti on the international stage, pushing for more attention to the country’s security crisis while pleading for the deployment of an international security force to help the Haitian police battle gangs. But he has also been accused of antagonizing Haitians with his hardline immigration stance.

Last year, the Dominican Republic deported more than 250,000 Haitians, including those in need of asylum, Amnesty International has said.