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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – The Dominican Republic’s top immigration official said Monday the nation will keep deporting Haitian migrants despite criticism by human rights groups of stepped up efforts to catch illegal border crossers.

The government sent roughly 1,000 Haitians back to their earthquake-shattered homeland last week, deploying soldiers and immigration officials to set up border patrols and surprise checkpoints last week along highways, asking people aboard public buses and vans for their papers.

Dominican immigration director Sigfrido Pared said Monday that the government is compelled to resume immigration enforcement to prevent the flow of illegal Haitian migrants since last January’s earthquake and to stop the spread of cholera, which has killed more than 3,000 people in Haiti and sickened about 150 in the neighboring Dominican Republic.

He also said the crackdown is urgent “because a massive entry of Haitians always occurs in January.”

Amnesty International has asked the Dominican government to increase efforts to help Haiti instead of deporting Haitians. “Returning people is condemning them to a situation where their health and security would be at great risk,” senior Amnesty adviser Javier Zuniga said Friday.

Pared said the human rights group’s criticism was unfair.

“If there has been a country in the world which has shown solidarity with Haiti since January 12, it has been the Dominican Republic,” said Pared, adding that the illegal migrants’ rights were being respected.

Oxene Clemente, a 42-year-old Haitian pastor at a Dominican church near the border, said Monday that most of his Haitian parishioners were in hiding because of the crackdown. He said only about 20 people worshipped at his tiny wooden church Sunday, down from the usual 85 or so.

Pared said the Dominican Republic was complying with a 1999 bilateral protocol to allow deportees to gather their belongings and not be separated from their families. Officials are also obligated to halt deportations after nightfall and on weekends.

For decades, Haitians have sought opportunity working on the streets, sugar plantations and tourist resorts of the comparatively wealthy Dominican Republic, risking discrimination and sometimes violence. Dominican leaders have fostered anti-Haitian sentiment, contributing to decades of violence and discrimination against Haitians.

But the quake devastation prompted an unprecedented level of good will toward their poorer neighbor: For a time, the Dominican Republic was the staging ground for much of the aid pouring into Haiti.

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