A major Washington-based think tank has warned that a recent court ruling stripping citizenship from Dominicans of Haitian descent has turned the Dominican Republic into a “ticking time bomb.”
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) said in a report that the Constitutional Court ruling also “leaves relatively little time to sort the tense situation out.”
In a ruling on Sept. 25, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court (TC) stripped citizenship from Dominicans of Haitian descent, going as far back as 1929.
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.
“Unsurprisingly, this controversial ruling has sparked global outrage,” COHA said. “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, COHA said 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.”
However, COHA urged that this ruling 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.”
Before the massive earthquake that rocked Haiti in January 2010, and long after Juliana Deguis Pierre was born, COHA said “birthright citizenship was an established form of Dominican law.”
But it said that, after the devastating natural disaster and the subsequent large inflow of illegal immigrants into the Dominican Republic from Haiti, the law was changed.
COHA noted that 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.
“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,” it said.
COHA said 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.”
It said that 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.
“This genocide of Haitians attempting to cross the border into the Dominican Republic made relations between the two countries extremely tense,” said COHA, adding that 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.”
However, it said the increasing number of Haitians seeking a better life in the Dominican Republic soon sky rocketed, with relations souring 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,” COHA said.
It said 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.”
COHA said this situation is further strained because “there is no guarantee that those made stateless will be accepted upon their return to Haiti.”
It said 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.
“With the protests currently occurring in the DR (Dominican Republic), 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,” the think tank said.
It said the Constitutional Court ruling and the implications of the law have “historical precedence on a significant scale.”
It said “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.”
Peña had been born in the Dominican Republic but was of Haitian ancestry.
COHA said 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,” it said, stating that, when he died in 1998, “the nation’s collectively mourned in a profound tribute to him.”
COHA noted that President Sanchez’s administration has come forward, stating that there “will be no mass deportations;” but, instead, there will a movement towards “regularizing” those undocumented statuses, with “temporary residency cards.”
“Understandably, the Dominicans who would be affected by the law are hesitant to believe these promises,” COHA said.
“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,” it added.
“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,” COHA warned.