The Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti share many things—a background of slavery, oppression, dictators, and the island of Hispaniola. Yet, in the DR, a history of racism and prejudice runs deep toward their Haitian neighbors who were often recruited for undesirable work in the DR’s sugarcane fields. In 1932, the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo massacred over 10,000 Haitian sugarcane workers in an attempt to ‘whiten’ the country. Still, Dominicans of Haitian descent have long roots in the DR, and contribute to the economy and society alongside their fellow citizens. But because registration and certification of births were often done on an arbitrary basis, proof of birth in the country has been difficult to verify.
Since the DR’s constitution of 1929 allowed any person born in the country to acquire citizenship, children of Haitian descent born in the DR were legally recognized as citizens. However, in 2010 the government ended this birthright to citizenship provision. Two years ago, the DR’s highest courts ruled that the 2010 law would be retroactive, meaning that the state could revoke the citizenship of children born in the DR since 1929 to parents with no legal status in the country.
Today, anyone without proof of legal residency under the new criteria could be deported to Haiti. But, for people once recognized as Dominican nationals, what kind of future would await them there?
DR officials have consistently argued that people of Haitian descent are not harmed by the citizenship law because they can take up Haitian citizenship. However, with their citizenship revoked in the DR and no documented ties to Haiti, Dominicans of Haitian descent may not be able to make a claim to citizenship in either country and could be rendered stateless. Those that may be most at risk of being made stateless are second and third generation Dominicans of Haitian descent, born in the Dominican Republic after 1929. The majority of these people were born to parents who may have never had Haitian nationality and were themselves recognized as Dominican citizens. It remains to be seen whether or not Dominicans of Haitian descent who are deported will seek Haitian citizenship, and if so, how they could substantiate such a claim.
What kind of claims can Dominicans of Haitian descent make to Haitian citizenship? According to Haitian nationality law, it is understood that the child of a ‘native-born’ Haitian parent has Haitian nationality at birth. Because this does not explicitly exclude people born outside the country, it may offer a pathway to Haitian citizenship for some first-generation Dominican-born children. Two more recent policy initiatives have allowed dual citizenship and increased efforts to provide documentation for the Haitian diaspora living abroad. Although Haiti’s efforts to document its citizens are commendable, it has historically struggled to register and document nationals in the country and its capacity to protect potentially stateless individuals of Haitian descent remains to be seen since many people will not have documents to prove any family ties to Haiti.
Last month, Haitian Prime Minister Evans Paul said the number of people crossing the border into Haiti from the DR was causing yet another humanitarian crisis for the country, and that roughly 14,000 people had left the DR and entered Haiti in less than a week. According to some of those who have left, these departures have been both voluntary and involuntary and are a result of the DR’s new policy. The Haitian prime minister is hesitant to create camps near the border for these people, suggesting it could lead to greater poverty in a country that is already struggling to provide for its residents. Many of the Dominicans of Haitian descent who entered Haiti don’t have family ties to the country and don’t have anyone to receive them. Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 78 percent of its population living on less than $2 a day. It’s hard to imagine the government having the capacity or resources to accommodate the tens of thousands of people leaving the DR. As the DR begins to enforce new policies and as some Dominicans of Haitian descent settle in Haiti, Haiti’s nationality laws and documentation practices will undoubtedly be tested.
The prospect of statelessness for Dominicans of Haitian descent is very real. The two countries must work together to ensure that everyone on the island acquires appropriate citizenship.
Tori Duoos is a Human Rights Advocacy Intern at Refugees International and a current Master’s student at the Humphrey School of Public Policy & Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
Banner image: Reuters photo.