Injustice for Dominicans of Haitian descent

Juliana Dequis Pierre, a 29-year-old Dominican woman of Haitian descent, does not meet the criteria for Dominican nationality.

The Sept. 23 ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal of the Dominican Republic was the result of a legal challenge made against the government by Dequis Pierre, a Dominican citizen by birth, for its refusal to allow her Dominican-born children to register for birth certificates. This refusal also resulted in the confiscation of Pierre’s own birth certificate and I.D. documentation. The ruling means that Dequis Pierre and her children are unable to claim nationality in their birth country.

The move has raised consternation in the Haitian Diaspora and among human rights organizations and civil rights groups worldwide. It comes in the wake of the Dominican Republic’s 2010 Constitution which defines the criteria for Dominican nationality as follows:

“Any person born within the territory of the Dominican Republic except those born to members of the Diplomatic or consular missions, and foreigners who are in transit or reside illegally in Dominican territory. A foreigner ‘in transit’ is any person defined as such by the laws of the Dominica Republic.”

Until the introduction of the 2010 Constitution, the Dominican Republic followed the principle of jus soli, citizenship determined by place of birth. However, the new constitution meant that all Haitian migrants living in the Dominican Republic since 1929 are deemed to be “in transit” so their children are not entitled to citizenship even if born in the Dominican Republic.

Causing more worry from this ruling has been a campaign by Dominican authorities to identify similar cases of individuals formally registered as Dominicans as far back as 1929 who would retroactively no longer qualify for citizenship under the 2010 Constitution.

This ruling, coupled with the revised criteria for nationality introduced in 2010, renders thousands of second- and third-generation Dominicans of Haitian ancestry potentially stateless. Most have little or no ties to Haiti and barely speak Creole. They are fully assimilated Dominicans who consider themselves citizens of their birth country.

A stateless person may find themselves denied many basic human rights and privileges including equality before the law, political participation and freedom of movement, as well as access to fundamental services such as healthcare and education.

The motivation behind this ruling is officially a move to normalize a complicated immigration system. Even as Dominican authorities have promised to create a path to legal residency for those whose nationality is revoked, no details have been provided, and there is no clear roadmap as to how this will be achieved, leaving thousands facing an uncertain future.

This decision to impose retroactive, punitive controls over a migrant population present in the country since 1929 will have far-reaching consequences. The Dominican Republic is not exempt from adherence to internationally recognized principles of human rights and is, furthermore, violating the widely embraced concept of “non-retroactivity” in legislation. This discriminatory state policy will result in the disenfranchisement of a group of people based on race alone.

As outside observers, we have every reason to worry when history has taught us that state-sponsored racial discrimination can beget greater horrors such as ethnic cleansing, genocide and even holocaust.

Seventy-five years ago this month, the infamous “Parsley Massacre” took place in a border town between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. This state-sponsored genocide was carried out under the orders of Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo and resulted in the brutal murders of as many as 30,000 Haitians. As the Haitian Diaspora commemorates the anniversary of this tragic massacre, new tensions are simmering beneath the surface of Dominican-Haitian relations.

Let’s not remain silent bystanders in the face of this racially motivated violation of human rights. Join us in denouncing this ruling. Don’t buy Dominican goods or services to show our discontent at this brazen injustice.

Gepsie M. Metellus is executive director of Sant La, Haitian Neighborhood Center, Inc., in Miami.

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