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November 1996, Volume 3, Number 11

Dominican Republic Immigration

An estimated 700,000 Dominicans, almost 10 percent of the 7.5 million population of the Dominican Republic, are believed to have emigrated since 1985. About 400,000 were admitted as legal immigrants to the US. Over half of these settled in New York City.

The Dominican Republic receives an estimated $1 billion in remittances each year.

More Dominicans receive public assistance than any other non-refugee group of immigrants. About 28 percent of the Dominican immigrants who arrived since 1980 have received public assistance for some period of time. Only Vietnamese, at 38 percent, and persons from the ex-USSR, at 33 percent, have higher rates of dependence on public assistance.

Dominican President Leonel Fernandez Reyna, who took office in August, 1996, acknowledged in September 1996 that "many Dominican families residing in the United States that have benefited from welfare and food stamps will begin to experience difficulties once this law is promulgated." Reyna, who went to elementary and high school in New York City, urged Dominicans in the US to become US citizens to retain their benefits; the Dominican Republic made dual citizenship legal in 1994.

In Reyna's words: "If you... feel the need to adopt the nationality of the United States in order to confront the vicissitudes of that society stemming from the end of the welfare era, do not feel tormented by this.... Do it with a peaceful conscience, for you will continue being Dominicans, and we will welcome you as such when you set foot on the soil of our republic."

The US Coast Guard reports that growing numbers of poor people from the Dominican Republic are hiring smugglers to take them on the 18-hour sea journey to Puerto Rico. Those who establish themselves in the US commonwealth have a foothold into the US. The Coast Guard has picked up 4,162 Dominicans at sea in 1996, about the same as in 1995.

The 14-nation Caribbean Community or Caricom wants the US to grant the island nations a free-trade status equivalent to that enjoyed by Mexico and Canada, but Congress, reportedly responding to US grower concerns of increased fruit and vegetable imports, did not act in 1996.

Angus MacSwan, "Dominican smuggling rings growing problem for US,: Reuters, October 16, 1996. Larry Rohter, "Fewer Immigrant Benefits Do Not Faze Dominicans," New York Times October 12, 1996. Ian Fisher, "A Dominican Leader Receives an Official Embrace," New York Times, October 5, 1996. "Dominican President Criticizes US Immigration Law," Reuters, October 3, 1996.