Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Stateless in the Dominican Republic

A recent decision by the Constitutional Court in the Dominican Republic effectively clears the way for officials to retroactively strip the citizenship of tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent. The ruling — that children born to Haitian immigrants are essentially foreigners in the country of their birth — is arbitrary and unjust and could potentially create one of the largest groups of stateless people in recent years.

Until recently, "birthright citizenship" was an established part of Dominican law, meaning that anyone born in the country was automatically eligible to be a citizen. That included children born to Haitian migrants who had come into the country illegally or as guest laborers to work in the Dominican sugar plantations, or to clean houses or to join construction crews. That law changed in 2010, when the country adopted a new constitution that limited citizenship to those children born to legal immigrants or those who had at least one parent of Dominican ancestry. Whether you agree with that change or not, there's little question that sovereign nations have the right to decide who is eligible for citizenship and under what conditions.

But what is entirely unacceptable is the court's decision to apply the new law ex post facto, to individuals like plaintiff Juliana Deguis, a 29-year-old woman born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents long before the new constitution was adopted. As a result of the decision, Deguis is now stateless; she's not a Dominican citizen or a Haitian citizen or a citizen of any other country. The Constitutional Court has ordered the government to review its birth records going back to 1929 to identify all those who no longer qualify for citizenship, including those to whom it has already been granted.

Theoretically, some of the victims of this unjust new rule might qualify for Haitian citizenship. But many have never set foot in Haiti and don't even speak French or Haitian Creole. Some might find that the records needed to prove their eligibility are missing or were destroyed in the 2010 earthquake.

The Constitutional Court's decision — which follows many years of resentment and mistreatment of Haitians, who have come to the Dominican Republic by the thousands to do the country's hardest and lowest-paid work — has outraged human rights groups and raised concern in the United Nations. It has needlessly and tragically created a humanitarian crisis where none existed. There is still time, however, for the international community to urge Dominican officials to exercise restraint as they review thousands of birth records. At the very least, they should provide legal status to those they strip of citizenship.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • A call for authentic democracy in Mexico

    A call for authentic democracy in Mexico

    There is finally a message of hope coming from south of the border. A powerful new social movement has emerged that could radically transform Mexico's corrupt political system. The disappearance and probable massacre of dozens of student activists by government officials in Iguala, Mexico, has...

  • Mexico reels, and the U.S. looks away

    Mexico reels, and the U.S. looks away

    The violent disappearance of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teachers college in Guerrero state has caused a political earthquake the likes of which Mexico has not seen in generations — perhaps even since the revolution of 1910.

  • Another outdated U.S. policy toward Cuba: immigration

    Under a policy forged in the crucible of the Cold War, the U.S. government treats Cubans fleeing their country differently than it does all other immigrants. Essentially, the policy is: If you can get here, you can stay. But the world has changed since the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 took effect,...

  • Sainthood isn't enough for Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero

    Sainthood isn't enough for Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero

    When Pope Francis announced he was unblocking the canonization process for Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero, killed in 1980 by a death squad during his country's civil war, it was heartening and frustrating. Romero stood up to a murderous army on behalf of the poor in El Salvador. President Obama...

  • Obama's historic shift on Cuba

    Obama's historic shift on Cuba

    Citing a half-century of failed policy, President Obama on Wednesday announced that he intends to normalize relations with Cuba, mending a rupture that dates to the chilliest days of the Cold War. While the move to restore diplomatic ties should not be taken as support for the Castro regime's continuing...

  • Harvesting solutions: How to address the plight of farmworkers in Mexico

    Harvesting solutions: How to address the plight of farmworkers in Mexico

    Last month, the Los Angeles Times published "Product of Mexico," a four-part series on the abuse of workers on Mexican megafarms that export fruits and vegetables to the United States. The articles and photographs documented dangerous and squalid housing, children as young as 6 working in the fields...

  • Cuba off the U.S. terrorism list: Goodbye to a Cold War relic

    Cuba off the U.S. terrorism list: Goodbye to a Cold War relic

    History may ultimately view it as an incremental step in the normalization of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, but the Obama administration's decision this week to drop the island nation from the list of state sponsors of terrorism is a welcome and overdue move. The reality...

  • America needs to study the enemy within

    America needs to study the enemy within

    When I was living in Chile in 1968, my Chilean friends often explained to me proudly that their country was different from other Latin American countries. Chile had a long democratic tradition. Its armed forces had rarely and only briefly meddled in the government, and not at all since 1932. Chile...

Comments
Loading

73°