Dominican Republic – Haiti Tensions Are On The Rise

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In a ruling on September 23, 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court (TC) stripped citizenship from Dominicans of Haitian descent, going as far back as 1929. [1] The court’s ruling was sparked by the case of Juliana Deguis Pierre, a Dominican woman of Haitian descent who filed a complaint after being denied an ID card (that would allow her to get a job, vote, and participate in public activities) because of her Haitian parents and last name. [2] Unsurprisingly, this controversial ruling has sparked global outrage.

The ruling could potentially result in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent, as well as their children, who were born in the Dominican Republic. Although citizenship by birth is common in countries all over the world, the TC ruled that children born of Haitian parents in the Dominican Republic are “legally inadmissible” and should not be seen as citizens, since their births were “to establish an entitlement from an unlawful de facto situation.” [3] However, this ruling should be reconsidered by the Dominican constitutional court as it is clearly in violation of the country’s constitution and of international human rights stipulations, which state that retraction is unjust and that everyone must have the right to a nationality. [4]

Before the earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010, and long after Juliana Deguis Pierre was born, birthright citizenship was an established form of Dominican law. However, after the devastating natural disaster and the subsequent large inflow of illegal immigrants into the Dominican Republic from Haiti, the law was changed. [5] The new and current law limits citizenship to those born in the Dominican Republic of legal immigrant parents, or those with at least one parent of “pure” Dominican ancestry. [6] The current stance that the TC court has chosen is unjust and will have a detrimental effect on those families born in the country under the previous law that have resided in the DR for decades.

The relationship and history between Haiti and the Dominican Republic (particularly during the regime of dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina from 1930 to 1961), illuminates the current situation. Under Trujillo’s repulsive, racially-biased rule, upwards of 20,000 Haitians, darker-skinned Dominicans (although some estimates conclude there were many more), and Dominicans nationals wishing to aid Haitians, were slaughtered by soldiers and Dominican civilians in order to “purify” or “whiten” the race. [7] This genocide of Haitians attempting to cross the border into the Dominican Republic made relations between the two countries extremely tense. [8] These tensions are currently exacerbated by economic downturn in Haiti, largely as a result of the 2010 earthquake, in which the Dominican Republic sent aid to Haiti and helped ease their border restrictions. [9] However, the increasing number of Haitians seeking a better life in the Dominican Republic soon sky rocketed, and relations started to sour yet again.

Although countries have the right to their autonomy when drafting their immigration laws, the Dominican Republic’s decision to strip citizens of citizenship because of their ancestry goes beyond the jurisdiction of regular lawmaking. What is problematic in this current ruling is its retroactive nature, which delves back through four generations of Dominicans in its attempt to deny citizenship, intentionally leaving more than 210,000 people stateless, according to estimates by the United Nations. [10] This situation is further strained because there is no guarantee that those made stateless will be accepted upon their return to Haiti. [11] The current act, which some are calling racist due to hostility within the country towards darker Dominicans, is undermining Dominican democracy and will only further worsen tensions between the two countries. [12] With the protests currently occurring in the DR, the Danilo Medina Sánchez administration’s decision to uphold the court’s law has the potential to bring the country into a period of violence and riots, which it cannot afford.

This ruling and the implications of the law has historical precedence on a significant scale. The tragedy of racism and the damage it has done to both nations is no better illustrated than in the fate of past Dominican presidential candidate José Francisco Peña Gómez. Mr. Peña had been born in the Dominican Republic, but was of Haitian ancestry. Because he was considered to be of Haitian blood, he never was permitted to be elected to the presidency, even though he was the clear winner of the presidential ballot in 1994.  “Mr. Peña’s battle against racial constraints and anti-Haitian bigotry that were perpetually used to deter him from his lifetime mission of winning the presidency,” was never forgotten. [13] When he died in 1998, the nation’s collectively mourned in a profound tribute to him.

President Sanchez’s administration has come forward stating that there “will be no mass deportations, but instead, a movement towards “regularizing” those undocumented statuses, with “temporary residency cards.” [14] Understandably the Dominicans who would be affected by the law are hesitant to believe these promises. Moreover, these promises do not justify the current ruling nor do they successfully explain how the DR government plans to achieve regularizing Dominicans of Haitian descent all the way back to 1929. If the current ruling is not overturned, we can expect to see heightened tensions that could lead to mass human rights violations and create a damper to the Caribbean and Latin American goal of regional integration. [15] This ruling has turned the Dominican Republic into a ticking time bomb, and leaves relatively little time to sort the tense situation out.

Tamanisha John, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

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[1] Espinal. Yanessi. “Juliana Deguis Pierre: “No he ido ni una sola vez a Haití.”” El Caribe. September 27, 2013.; “High court’s landmark ruling a setback for offspring of Haitians.” Dominican Today. September 26, 2013.

[2] Fox. Ben and Lopez. Ezequiel Abiu.”Dominican Citizenship Ruling Leaves Many Living in Fear.” Huffington Post. October 23, 2013.; “A court ruling to deny citizenship to Dominican Republic-born Haitians will be challenged by demonstrators outside the Caribbean nation’s consulate in midtown this week.” NY Daily News. October 13, 2013.

[3] “High court’s landmark ruling a setback for offspring of Haitians.” Dominican Today. September 26, 2013.; Lopez. Ezequiel Abiu and Coto. Danica.”Dominican Republic to end citizenship for Haitian-descended residents.” NBC Latino. September 28, 2013.

[4]”República Dominicana Constitucion de 2010.” Political Database of the Americas. Georgetown University. January 31, 2011.; “The International Bill of Human Rights.” United Nations

[5] “Stateless in the Dominican Republic.” Los Angeles Times. October 30, 2013.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ghosh. Palash. “Parsley Massacre: The Genocide That Still Haunts Haiti-Dominican Relations.” International Business Times. October 15, 2012.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Dominican Republic aid to Haiti eases historic tensions.” CNN. January 13, 2010.

[10] Lopez. EzequielAbiu and Coto. Danica. “Correction: Dominican-Stripping Citizenship Story.” The Big Story. October 9, 2013.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Dominican court’s misguided ruling on citizenship.” The Boston Globe. October 14, 2013.

[13] Cox. Deanna. “The Legacy of Dr. Josè Francisco Peña Gòmez.” Council on Hemispheric Affairs. April 14, 2009.

[14] Buschschluter. Vanessa.”Dominican Republic denies immigration ruling is ‘racist’.” BBC News. October 31, 2013.

[15] “Caricom ‘deeply concerned’ about Dom Rep migrant ruling.” Jamaica Observer. October 18, 2013–deeply-concerned–about-Dom-Rep-migrant-ruling_15275547; “CARICOM “Concerned” Over Citizenship Ruling in Dominican Republic.” Caribbean Journal. October 17, 2013.Web: