The Dominican Republic has resumed the detention of people deemed to be illegal migrants after the expiration of a deadline for undocumented foreigners to apply for temporary residence.
Officials in the Dominican Republic have grown concerned by an influx of people from neighboring Haiti and a 2013 Dominican court ruling stripped citizenship from children born to undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of which are Haitian.
To help implement the ruling while responding to an international outcry, the Dominican Congress passed a law allowing some migrants to apply for residency before a June 17 deadline. The government said last month that more than 200,000 people who had started the process can stay for up to two years.
At a press conference on Friday, Foreign Minister Andrés Navarro said the government was doing no more than enact its Migration Act.
"What the government is doing is the regular enforcement of the immigration law," Navarro said. "Deadlines have passed ... and the regular enforcement has been resumed."
A U.S. State Department spokesman said the Obama administration was aware of the decision and urged the Dominican government "to avoid mass deportations and to conduct any deportations in a transparent manner that fully respects the human rights of deportees."
The Dominican Republic, which shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with its impoverished neighbor, has a population estimated to be as high as 1 million of people originally from Haiti.
A United Nations official in the capital Santo Domingo confirmed that deportations had begun on Friday. "From what we understand, they are small scale at this point, but we have only scattered information," the official said.
At a detention center in the town of Haina a few minutes from the capital of Santo Domingo, armed guards said an undisclosed number of Haitians had been detained. More than a dozen prison-style buses with barred windows stood waiting to transport detainees.
Haitian officials have warned they lack the resources to handle mass deportations, but tens of thousands of Haitians and Haitian-Dominicans have already fled the Dominican Republic with many settling in squalid camps in Haiti.
Haitian officials recently estimated the population at four camps in the south of Haiti as at least 2,000 and growing.
The United States was concerned that some people with a right to citizenship or residency might be swept up in the deportation process due insufficient time and resources to obtain proper documentation, deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement on Friday evening.
"In all cases, the Dominican Republic should take measures adequate to prevent the risk of statelessness and the discriminatory confiscation of documents," Toner said.