On Sunday, Juliana Delguis Pierre went to the airport in Santo Domingo to catch a flight to the U.S. manland — but she never boarded. A U.S. visa was not an issue: She had a travel document issued by the U.S. State Department. No, it was Dominican immigration that stopped her, because she didn’t have a passport. Any passport.
Since September, Juliana’s status has been the subject of international interest, because her lack of a passport is not just her personal problem. Her predicament is shared by thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Dominicans. Or at least, people born in the Dominican Republic, who held Dominican nationality documents, believed themselves to be Dominicans and lived their lives as Dominicans until six months ago.
That was when the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal ruled that it was all a mistake — in Juliana’s case, and the case of anybody else born in the Dominican Republic who couldn’t provide documentary proof that their parents were legal residents in the Dominican Republic at the time they, the children, were born.
Like a biblical sin, the consequences of any such irregularity shall, according to the Constitutional Tribunal, be visited upon every succeeding generation.
The Constitutional Tribunal decided to ignore the plain language of the constitution that was in force when Juliana was born, which stated very clearly that the children born in the Dominican Republic have the right to citizenship.
It decided to ignore the fact that the current constitution, which took away this birthright, also provides that constitutional provisions shouldn’t be retroactively applied. Instead, the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal earned itself the right to be called the un-Constitutional Tribunal.
It did so by issuing a ruling order in September last year that would leave thousands of Dominicans — make that former Dominicans — stateless.
The overwhelming majority of those affected are, of course, of Haitian descent who have no automatic right to claim Haitian citizenship because they were, yes, born in the Dominican Republic, and many held Dominican residency.
Creation of statelessness, by the way, is also contrary to international law, and it creates a major inconvenience to those affected, should they wish to work, study, marry or have their own children. Not to mention travel to Washington for a meeting on human rights.
There’s been confusion about how, precisely, the ruling will be implemented and what it will mean in practice.
Well, what would it mean if every U.S. resident born here who had an undocumented immigrant ancestor were denationalized today? Yes, it’s difficult to envision the economic, social, and political chaos that would ensure, the quibbling (with life-and-death-consequences) over whether African Americans were documented or undocumented (many migrants from Haiti to the Dominican Republic were, incidentally, brought essentially as slave labor to cut sugar cane. They were never documented by their employers, or else they were given documentation that is not recognized, now, as valid proof of legal Dominican residence).
With Juliana being blocked from boarding her flight, things are becoming a bit more clear, and it doesn’t look good.
President Medina has accepted in principle (with magnanimity and pragmatism that the Constitutional Tribunal did not show) that those born in the Dominican Republic should be treated differently from those who actually migrated there, but the eagerly awaited law that will ‘naturalize’ those affected by the ruling hasn’t been released.
Dominican politics meanwhile is awash with ethno-nationalist outrage that foreigners should have anything to say about the rulings of their hallowed, if tragically misguided, Constitutional Tribunal.
The U.S. government, by issuing Juliana a travel document, has now acknowledged that those affected by the ruling are stateless. By refusing to let Juliana leave the country for lack of a passport, the Dominican Republic is both confirming that this is the case and showing how grim the reality of statelessness is.
The Dominican Republic is set to become a vast prison for those who cannot exercise any rights — not even the right to leave.
Julia Harrington Reddy works on the global issue of statelessness at the Open Society Justice Initiative in New York.