Dominican Republic excludes descendants of ‘illegal’ Haitians

In a decision dated Sept. 23 the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal (TC) in effect took away the citizenship of all people born in the country to out-of-status parents since June 20, 1929. The court noted that the authorities are currently studying birth certificates of more than 16,000 people and have refused to issue identity documents to another 40,000; the justices gave electoral authorities one year to determine which people would be deprived of their citizenship. Since most undocumented immigrants in the Dominican Republic are Haitians, the ruling mainly affects Dominicans of Haitian descent. The TC is the highest court for constitutional issues, and the decision—TC/0168/13, in the case of the Haitian-descended Juliana Deguis Pierre—cannot be appealed.

The Dominican Constitution was amended in 2010 to exclude the children of undocumented immigrants from citizenship; even before that, the Central Electoral Council (JCE) had refused for several years to issue papers to the grown children of undocumented immigrants. The new ruling goes much further. It is based on a clause in the 1929 Constitution granting citizenship to “all persons who are born in the territory of the Republic, with the exception of the legitimate children of foreigners resident in the country as diplomatic representatives or those who are in transit in it.” Citing a 1939 law, the TC ruled that “in transit” was different from “transient” and included everyone without legal status. The decision could apparently take citizenship away from Haitian-descended Dominicans now in their 80s and render them stateless.

Migration General Director JosĂ© Ricardo Taveras Blanco called the decision “historic” and said it “opens doors to resolving definitively a problem which has been an open wound in Dominican society.” Human rights advocates were appalled. Reed Brody, counsel and spokesperson for the US-based group Human Rights Watch, said the ruling “cuts against the rights of thousands of people born in the Dominican Republic, and could immediately undermine their access to education and health services.” The BonĂł Center, a Catholic human rights organization in the Dominican Republic, called the decision “absurd,” “senseless” and “unjust.” It affects “the fundamental rights of more than four generations of men and women who during their whole lives had formed a part of the Dominican people and have contributed to this republic’s material, cultural and spiritual development,” the group said. “The court ignores the principles behind decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights [IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish], along with international agreements and treaties which have constitutional seniority.” (El DĂ­a, Dominican Republic, Sept. 26; AP Sept. 26, via Yahoo NewsEl Diario-La Prensa, Sept. 26, Sept. 27Sept. 28 from correspondent)

In related news, Major-Gen. Rubén Darío Paulino Sem announced during the week of Sept. 22 that 47,700 undocumented Haitians had been deported since Aug. 16, 2012, more than twice the 20,541 deported the year before. (Haïti Libre, Haiti, Sept. 29)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, September 29.