Dominican Republic: will new citizenship law work?

A new naturalization law went into effect in the Dominican Republic on May 23 when it was officially promulgated by President Danilo Medina. The law seeks to regularize the status of thousands of Dominicans, mostly Haitian descendants, affected by Decision 168-13, a ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal (TC) last September declaring that no one born to undocumented immigrant parents since 1929 was a citizen. The new law—which President Medina had promised to introduce to Congress on Feb. 27—was approved quickly once he finally presented it in May. The Chamber of Deputies passed the bill on May 16, and the Senate voted 26-0 on May 21 to approve it.

Under the new law, people born in the Dominican Republic to foreign parents between 1929 and 2007 will become citizens if they are listed on the electoral board's civil registry and can present certain documents. People who cannot present the documents will have 90 days to register for regular immigration status if they can produce proof that they were born in the Dominican Republic; after two years as resident immigrants, they will be able to apply for citizenship. The government says only about 24,000 people were affected by Decision 168-13, including 13,000 Haitian descendants; human rights groups put the number affected at 200,000 and say almost all are Haitian descendants. (Associated Press, May 21, via New York Times; El Nuevo Herald, Miami, May 23, from EFE)

Haitian immigrant rights activists were critical of the measure. "The law gives you something," Jean Baptiste Azolin, the coordinator of the Support Group for the Repatriated and Refugees (GARR), said on May 20, while the bill was still awaiting approval, but the measure "complicates the situation" for the Dominicans who aren't in the civil registry and lack the required documents. The 90-day limit is too narrow to produce documents, according to Azolin. "Does the Dominican government have the capacity for receiving all these people in that period of time?" he asked. "Can the Haitian government produce papers by the deadlines?" Jean Robert Argand, the director of another Haitian rights group, the Dec. 4 Collective, said the measure "only mitigates certain effects. The problem can come up again at any moment." (AlterPresse, Haiti, May 20)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 25.