In an explosive new letter, Representative Troy Nehls (R-TX) asked the Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether taxpayer funded programs are supporting the Dominican Republic’s excessive use of preventive detention against American citizens and legal permanent residents. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Nehls wrote that he is “very concerned taxpayer funds are being spent effectively and not being used to unreasonably deny the due process rights of American citizens and legal residents living outside the U.S.”

The DOJ programs in question are the Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development (OPDAT) and International Criminal Investigative Training Program (ICITAP). Established in 1991, OPDAT promotes “rule of law and regard for human rights by reforming foreign justice systems” by supporting “professional and accountable institutions consistent with international norms and standards.” OPDAT deploys experienced American prosecutors to serve as long-term Resident Legal Advisors (RLAs) and short-term Intermittent Legal Advisors (ILAs) to help accomplish these goals.

Similarly, ICITAP works with foreign governments to “develop professional and transparent law enforcement institutions that protect human rights, combat corruption, and reduce the threat of transnational crime and terrorism.” ICITAP has a global presence that includes the Dominican Republic, where a police reform effort was launched in 2015 to strengthen criminal justice coordination and improve community relations, among other goals.

Implemented by DOJ; Paid for by State and USAID

DOJ works closely with and receives funding from the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Agency for International Development for both OPDAT and ICITAP programs. As Rep. Nehls pointed out in his letter, “oversight of these programs has been a priority” for the DOJ IG for decades. In 2000, a 400-page report from former DOJ IG Glenn Fine found that DOJ officials involved with these programs “engaged in potentially criminal misconduct and serious mismanagement, and other senior managers paid no attention not the problems.” This in turn led to “security violations, visa fraud, financial mismanagement, abuse of the travel rules and regulations for self-aggrandizement, preselection and favoritism for some employees.”

Growing Congressional Concerns about Dominican Republic

Rep. Nehls letter builds on the inquiry from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, which established that an unknown amount of U.S. nationals are caught in the middle of the Dominican Republic’s preventive detention crisis. Rep. Nehls asks the important question: if the DOJ is operating criminal justice programs in the Dominican Republic, are they a party to this preventive detention crisis? How exactly is OPDAT “promoting the rule of law and regard for human rights” in a country where 70 percent of those behind bars are held on a preventive basis? How many taxpayer dollars have been spent to “develop transparent law enforcement institutions that protect human rights” in the Dominican Republic that are “consistent with international norms and standards?”

The preventive detention crisis in the Dominican Republic has seen no improvement for nearly 25 years. Representatives Nehls and McCaul are finally bringing transparency to the millions of foreign assistance that the U.S. government has sent to the DR. More lawmakers in Congress should be following their lead. It is time to ensure accountability for this assistance, especially if these programs are being used to deny the due process rights of Americans.