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Here I was Born: Stateless Dominicans Seek Recognition
Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Dominican children of Haitian parents in Jimani, Dominican Republic. “Many Dominicans of Haitian descent are poor, and as such are invisible,” says Ana Maria Belique. “This current government stance makes it very difficult for the community, which is primarily living in the poorest areas, to have the opportunity to improve their situations.” (Shaina Aber — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
(Washington, D.C.) March 14, 2012 — People of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic face threats to their human rights and well-being stemming from Dominican government policies that seek to deny or strip citizenship from the children or grandchildren of Haitian migrants.  

Jesuit Refugee Service and our Jesuit affiliated partners in the Dominican Republic are committed to working together with stateless Dominicans, and with Haitian refugees and migrants, to challenge the racial discrimination preventing them from being recognized as a people with a voice of their own, and to overcome the wrongful policies that unjustly deny them their fundamental human rights.

The island of Hispaniola is divided between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Although both countries struggle economically, the disparity in wealth and development between the two countries is stark, and Haitians have for many decades migrated to the Dominican Republic in search of jobs and to escape Haiti’s political instability and environmental degradation. 

Today, Dominican born children who are the descendants of Haitians who were brought to the Dominican Republic in the 1950s and 1960s and Haitian refugees who fled dictatorship and violence in the 1980s and 1990s are being stripped of their Dominican nationality by the retroactive application of nationality provisions first ordered in 2007, culminating in a constitutional change in 2010. 

These policies have increased the vulnerability of an already marginalized group, exposing them to abuse, restricted access to government services, institutionalized racial discrimination, bias-motivated violence, labor exploitation, and even expulsion from Dominican territory. 

The new constitutional provisions mandate denial of citizenship to all children born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian migrants in the last year and a half; but even more disturbing, and in direct violation of the Dominican Republic’s own laws and the international human rights regime, Dominican authorities have retroactively applied new nationality provisions — effectively stripping persons born in the Dominican Republic before the constitutional change, including those who have held Dominican identity documents and Dominican passports in the past, of their nationality. 

Men and women who were born and raised in the Dominican Republic now find they are denied a basic human right. Decades after their parents were invited by the government of the Dominican Republic to work harvesting sugarcane, the children of Haitian immigrants find themselves struggling to reclaim their nationality.  

Stateless Dominicans not only face social exclusion, they also often find it impossible to access medical centers and higher education; they are denied driver’s licenses, the right to vote, the right to marry, and the ability to work legally. As these stateless children of Haitian migrants start their own families, a new generation of children is being born without any status or recognition.

"My parents came here to work in the sugar cane fields. The sugar cane workers were all given IDs and legal papers when they crossed the border; they were hired by the Dominican state to work in the fields," said Ana Maria Belique. "I was born here, and I have a Dominican passport."

Until January 2010 the Dominican constitution stated that all children born in the country — except for those spending 10 days or less within it — were citizens. In January 2010 the constitution was amended to require that at least one parent must be a legal resident in order for a child born in the DR to automatically acquire citizenship. In actual practice, however, the children of parents who are legal residents are also being denied birth certificates. 

"All Dominicans of Haitian descent are now facing problems getting copies of their birth certificates. The birth certificates are required to enter school, to attend university, to get married, to get a job. But now, the Dominican state is denying the birth certificate to Dominicans of Haitian descent," said Ms. Belique.

"When I was younger, I didn’t have any problems getting into schools. But, in 2007, when the government wrote [the new, retroactive nationality provision], I started facing problems getting into university," she said.

The 2007 pronouncement by the civil registry known as Resolution 12 restricts Dominicans‘ access to identity documents like birth certificates. Confirmed into law in 2008, the resolution allows the suspension of state-issued identity documents on the basis of ill-defined irregularities.

"In trying to get a copy of my birth certificate, I turned to the legal system and took it to the court, and I won. But now, the state has appealed the decision to the supreme court, and I am still waiting for my birth certificate," said Ms. Belique.

"I have a passport and an ID. I got my passport in 2006, and the resolutions changed things for everyone the next year. If I need a copy of my birth certificate or I have to renew my passport, I will have difficulty," said Milciades Yan. 

Mr. Yan was born in the Dominican Republic 44 years ago. His parents arrived there in 1962.

"When I knew it was going to affect me, I couldn’t believe it. And now I have diabetes and other problems I did not have before the stress brought on by this," said Mr. Yan.

"I'd like the Dominican government to state publicly that we are Dominican. We are proud to be of Haitian descent, but we were born here: we are proud Dominicans. I want the government to stop this discriminatory attitude, and for the government to acknowledge the human rights of Dominican citizens affected by these resolutions," said Ms. Belique.

"Many Dominicans of Haitian descent are poor, and as such are invisible. This current government stance makes it very difficult for the community, which is primarily living in the poorest areas, to have the opportunity to improve their situations," she added.

"I call on the government and others involved to make things right and acknowledge that we are Dominicans. Many of the younger people would like to go to college, to become doctors, to help their fellow Dominicans, but they are unable to do so. Right now, it is quite difficult for the sons and daughters of Haitians to study," said Mr. Yan.

Fr. Antonio Fernandez Rodriguez of Altagracia Parish in Pedernales confirms the difficulties faced by students. With funds provided by Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, Fr. Antonio has opened three schools for Dominicans of Haitian descent and Haitian immigrants working in isolated farming communities along the border.

"The lack of documentation has a serious effect. The parents of students can’t sell goods at the market because they could be immediately deported. When the students get older and can enter a more formal government-run school, they don’t have the proper papers. This makes it difficult or impossible for them to finish even their basic education," he said.

"The people without papers have two countries, yet have no country at all," said Fr. Antonio. 

Jesuit Refugee Service and our Jesuit affiliated Dominican Partners call for:

• An end to the retroactive application of the 2010 nationality provisions by government authorities and recognition by the Dominican government of the citizenship of all persons born in Dominican territory before January 2010, regardless of their ethnic origin.

• The immediate issuance of pending identity documents and birth certificates to all persons born in Dominican territory before January 2010. 

• The engagement of the Dominican Human Rights Ombudsman in documenting and denouncing cases in which Dominican identity documents have been wrongly denied.

• Review by the newly established Constitutional Tribunal of cases in which Resolution 12 has been applied in the Dominican Republic to retroactively strip Dominicans of Haitian ancestry of their citizenship.

• A national dialogue among the Dominican authorities, media outlets, business leaders, human rights activists and religious and civil society leaders to address discrimination, statelessness and inter-ethnic conflict.

A PDF of this issue can be downloaded on our Publications page, please click here to visit that page.

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