Biden’s ‘National Emergency’ to Free Americans Detained Abroad

Biden’s ‘National Emergency’ to Free Americans Detained Abroad

The Biden administration has been praising itself in a Department of State press release for successfully bringing home American citizens who had spent years in Iran “imprisoned as part of the Iranian regime’s cruel practice of wrongful detention.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken even touted the administration’s commitment to ensuring it has “brought home every wrongfully detained American.”

This is nice rhetoric, but the principles are being applied very selectively, and the sad fact is that it’s just not true—especially when you consider the legions of Americans unjustly being detained by one of our own neighbors, the Dominican Republic. 

While the recent release of American prisoners held in Iran was a good first step—that is, if you ignore that whole “we will never negotiate with terrorists” thing—much more needs to be done if the administration wants us to believe it has “no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens at home and abroad.”

Sadly, the double standard between Iran and our own hemisphere is incredible.

In 2022, President Joe Biden issued an executive order declaring a national emergency that “the wrongful detention of United States nationals abroad constitute[s] an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”

According to the executive order, Blinken should “publicly or privately designate or identify officials of foreign governments who are involved, directly or indirectly, in wrongful detentions, as appropriate.”

More than a year after the order was issued, this list is nowhere to be found.

If the Biden administration wants to take the “national emergency” seriously, the Dominican Republic should be at the top of any list for its decades-long “preventive detention” crisis.

Specifically, the Dominican Republic abuses the policy of “preventive detention,” which allows the government to detain individuals for months or years without informing them of their charges or revealing the evidence against them.

Based on information provided by the Dominican National Office of Public Defense, up to 70% of all U.S. detainees in prisons in the Dominican Republic are currently behind bars under an order of “preventive detention.” Reports from 1999 show the same percentage of all detainees were held then, as today, despite decades of significant American investments in reforming the Dominican criminal justice system. This is a serious crisis.

According to the executive order, the secretary of state should be working to “secure the release of those held as hostages or wrongfully detained,” whether they are citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Yet there is no accounting for how many Americans are being held in Dominican prisons. While the Biden administration does nothing, lawmakers in Congress are desperately trying to determine how many Americans are being wrongfully detained by the Dominican government.

Last month, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, sent a letter to Blinken demanding to know how many Americans are being held under preventive detention in the Dominican Republic. The letter appears to be unanswered. McCaul deserves answers—especially given the United States’ financial assistance provided to the Dominican Republic totals approximately $77 million per year.

Republican Rep. Troy Nehls from Texas has also raised concerns about the rate of preventive detention in the Dominican Republic, asking the inspector general of the Department of Justice to investigate whether the DOJ is funding programs that are unlawfully detaining Americans.

Nehls wrote concerning the Dominican Republic, “The country is still viewed by many to have an inadequate criminal system that is at a ‘crisis’ level … With the prospect that American citizens and legal permanent residents are being held in prison unjustly, it begs the question as to the accountability of these programs.” 

Why the double standard? In my opinion, it is due to the administration’s inability to not allow political agendas to drive policy. For example, the administration wants to enable the Mullahs, or at least cozy up to them, in the misguided belief that Iran will somehow become a “partner” in the Middle East. And in Russia, they got Brittney Griner released, but ignored others in identical circumstances. Woke politics or fanciful dreams should not drive citizen-related policies.

Rather than designate the Dominican Republic as a country directly involved in wrongful detention, the Biden administration has instead lauded it as a model for democracy. Uzra Zeya, Biden’s undersecretary of state for security, democracy, and human rights, has, in fact, called the Dominican Republic a “bright spot” for “combating corruption, improving citizen security” and “protecting human rights.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Biden administration owes answers to Congress—and to the American people—and should take immediate action to secure the release of U.S. nationals wrongfully detained in the Dominican Republic. The logical first step would be to designate the country’s government as responsible for the inappropriate detention crisis currently plaguing the nation.

If the plight of Americans detained by loathsome autocrats is really a priority, then the Biden-Blinken team needs to act, consistently, to apply pressure for their release. Simply paying for them is not the answer and only encourages other bad actors to wrongfully detain or take hostage American citizens in the hope of getting a payday. 

Nor is it wise or morally correct for the administration to reward the Mullahs in Iran with cash payments while doing next to nothing against a government holding legions more of our people off our own shores. It makes it look as if our government values some citizens more than others.

Resolute consistency promotes our interests, protects our citizens, and stands on the moral high ground. It also makes clear to other nations our expectations when dealing with them on such issues. Biden’s jumble of policies accomplishes none of these things and leaves the United States at the mercy of a handful of deplorable autocrats.

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About the Author

Tony Beasley
Tony Beasley writes for the Local News, US and the World Section of ANH.