A ruling by the Dominican Constitutional Court last week could have disastrous implications for individuals of Haitian descent in the country, potentially leaving tens of thousands of people stateless.
On Thursday, the court found that anyone born to undocumented immigrants to the Dominican Republic since 1929 are not legal citizens, giving civil registry officials in the Central Electoral Board (JCE) a year to come up with a list of people to exclude from citizenship. In its ruling, the court said JCE officials were going over the birth certificates of more than 16,000 people, and recognized that some 40,000 people of Haitian descent had been denied identification documents because of their status.
Up until the Dominican constitution was revised in 2010, the country automatically guaranteed citizenship to anyone born there, regardless of the nationality of their parents. However, the new constitution left out children of undocumented immigrants from this provision, deeming them to be merely “in transit.” Because the change mostly affected descendants of Haitian migrants, it was widely chalked up to longstanding discriminatory attitudes against Haitians in the Dominican Republic.
Last week’s ruling is a continuation of this discrimination, and puts individuals of Haitian descent in an extremely difficult position. Under Dominican law, they are living in the country illegally and could be deported to Haiti. However, most are not Haitian citizens either, and do not speak Creole or have significant ties to the country. Because of this, legal experts have challenged the basis of the court’s decision. As constitutional lawyer Nassef Perdomo told Dominican news site 7 Dias, “By revoking the citizenship of all these people, it has been determined that they are all of Haitian nationality, even though the Constitutional Court has no power to grant someone the nationality of a foreign country.”
The Associated Press notes that activists say they intend to file a petition against the ruling with the Inter-American Commission, which in turn may refer the case to the Inter-American Court.
Officials in the country insist that no one will be left stateless by the ruling. Over the weekend, JCE President Roberto Rosario told El Dia that Dominican law establishes mechanisms for affected individuals to apply for legal citizenship. “The sentence unifies the country,” Rosario said. “It clarifies and defines a legal path [to citizenship] and allows these people a humanitarian solution through a legal framework.”
“Far from remaining in limbo like some critics are arguing, [they] will for the first time benefit from a defined status and identity without having to violate the law,” Immigration Director Jose Ricardo Taveras told reporters.
However, the AP notes that this legal path to citizenship has not yet been established, nine years after a 2004 law called for its creation. It is also unclear how many of those who have been denied nationality by the recent court decision will be eligible for the process.
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