The relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti has always been contentious, occasionally violent, but a recent immigration ruling by the a Dominican court marks a new low in the unfair treatement historically meted out to ethnic Haitians in that country.
Nearly two months ago, the Dominican Republic’s highest judicial body issued a ruling denying citizenship to generations of individuals of Haitian descent born in that country, a decision with disastrous consequences for tens of thousands living on Dominican soil. It cannot go unchallenged by the world community.
Every nation has a right to decide who deserves to claim citizenship, but the Dominican Republic cannot absolve itself of moral responsibility by merely declaring that its constitution does not automatically confer that right on anyone born in that country.
For one thing, the decision goes back to 1929, which means ethnic Haitians born to parents who themselves were born in the Dominican Republic are now in jeopardy of losing their right to remain in the country and enjoy the benefits of citizenship.
These are people who know no other country and don’t speak Creole, the main language of Haiti. The Dominican Republic’s need for Haitian workers extends that country’s reponsibility. For decades, Dominican sugar farms and plantations have relied on Haitian labor to make their land profitable.
Haitians were lured by the prospect of jobs, often under horrible conditions. To suddenly turn them away as if they had contributed nothing to the Dominican economy over the years is unjust, not to mention hypocritical.
The court’s unconscionable decision effectively codifies the discriminatory treatment that Haitians have received in the Dominican Republic for so long, bordering on outright racism. Dominican officials have tried to soften the blow by saying the affected individuals — who could number up to 200,000 — are not technically “stateless,” since they could claim citizenship in Haiti under the rules of that country.
That, of course, is besides the point. Some Dominican officials have suggested that the decision by the court was merely an effort to reach “a clear immigration policy that respects human rights and international pacts,” and that once the legal status of “undocumented foreigners” is established, a path to citizenship will be open.
This is hardly reassuring. It is far from a promise to avoid the mass deportations that the court’s decision could bring about. If it were otherwise, the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the Organization of American States, the U.N. Human Rights Council, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and numerous civil society groups would not have objected or expressed concern.
There is a way out. An established agency, the Dominican-Haitian Biltaeral Commission, is supposed to address any disputes that have to do with state of the relations between the countries, including migration. Dominican President Danilo Medina, who has said that the court’s ruling has created “a human problem,” and his Haitian counterpart, President Michel Martelly, should order the commission to come up with a humanitarian solution that allows ethnic Haitians to have their rights as Dominican citizens restored.
The United States and the Caribbean community can help by pressing for an outcome that allows the Dominican Republic to claim that it reserves the right to decide who is and who is not a citizen — but not at the cost of destroying so many lives.