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Citizenship

Thousands of Dominicans are living as ghosts

There are hundreds of thousands of people living in the Dominican Republic without citizenship, and it’s not because they’re not supposed to be there. In fact, most of them were born in the Dominican Republic but were stripped of their statehood by the government. They are considered a stateless population.

But let’s rewind and get some background on the story. On September 23, 2013, the high court in the DR determined that anyone born in the country after 1929 of foreign descent is considered to be living illegally.

Why would any government want to kick out thousands of its people? Well, in the case of the island of Hispaniola, this ruling now targets those with Haitian lineage, resulting from a long history of cultural discrimination against Haitians. Dominican tension with Haiti can be traced back to the 19th century when Haitians occupied the DR territory. The powers have shifted since, however, as Haiti has never been able to develop far from its impoverished state. Over the years, many Haitians have migrated--with or without the proper paperwork--to find some sort of promising lifestyle in the Dominican.

Flickr: Juergen Warcshun

Flickr: US Air Force

The friction between the two countries has taken on a form of prejudice as the Haitians face the stigma that most immigrant populations do in the world: they are said to be a drain to the Dominican economy and its resources.

Ironically, the reason why many of the Haitian families originally relocated was because the Dominican government allowed for it. Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo engaged in labor contracting to bring in tens of thousands of Haitian workers to harvest the sugarcane fields each season. The two governments made an agreement that Haitians could migrate into the DR without the necessary paperwork if they worked for the sugarcane companies. This practice was continued during Jean Paul Duvalier’s reign in the 1980’s and even if it is not a current method used by the government, the process became habit for sugarcane companies and thousands of Haitians who were continuously trafficked across the border.

So here we are years later, while generations of children have been born on Dominican soil, with no ties to Haiti, and are told that they no longer belong in the DR because a family member as far back as 1929 was brought in (most likely by Dominican governments or companies) without the proper paperwork.

Over a  year and a half ago, the constitutional court of the DR made a ruling that claimed some 200,000 citizens were “misregistered” at birth, and were asked to go back to Haiti, their “home.” It doesn’t seem right that children, teenagers, and even parents are being told that they must return to a place they never came from. They don’t speak Kreyol, they don’t have any current ties, and they have established a life in the DR.

Flickr: Juergen Warschun

In fact it isn’t right. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every person is born with a right to a nationality, meaning that statelessness is inhumane and the acts of the Dominican government are a severe violation of human rights.

But what does statelessness really mean? When people fall between the cracks of two countries –forced to leave one and facing refusal to be accepted by another- they often become stateless. They have no citizenship and there is no documentation that acknowledges one’s existence.

The consequence here is that people who fall under this category have no legitimate means to participate in society. They cannot hold a job unless it’s ‘under the table,’ which often means they are underpaid and abused workers. Stateless people are often pushed to slum-like living because they aren’t able to own property without citizenship. They become squatters in makeshift homes with the constant threat of getting pushed out and deported to the border.

Flickr: Juergen Warschun

So why am I talking about this now? Because no one else is. When the law was put into action there was some media coverage but not enough to provide the international pressure necessary to persuade the Dominican government in overturning the ruling.

Now it has been a year and half out, and the deadline to apply for migrant permits under the ruling came and went during February of this year. Over a hundred thousand people are estimated to still be at risk for expulsion from the DR on top of the mass deportations that have already occurred in that past year and a half.

Executive Director for the Dominican Presidency’s International Commission on Science and Technology Jose Santana told the Huffington Post, “It’s important for us to normalize immigration in this country.”

History begs to differ however, and shows clearly that here is a discriminatory agenda at play. So share this story and start making noise in condemning the Dominican government for their obstruction of human rights. Support organizations like the Jesuit Refugee Service in their campaign to assist the stateless Dominicans and see an end to this injustice.