The Dominican Republic Revokes Citizenship of Dominican-born Children of Unauthorized Migrants

Generations of persons of Haitian descent, born in the Dominican Republic, have faced administrative and legal barriers to Dominican citizenship, despite the birthright citizenship provisions of the Dominican Constitution. On September 26, 2013, the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic issued a ruling to revoke the citizenship of the children of unauthorized migrants born in the Dominican Republic since 1929. The ruling held that Haitians who migrated to work on Dominican sugar plantations and in other labor sectors were “in transit” and, therefore, their children were not entitled to citizenship.

Prior to 2010, the Dominican Constitution excluded from citizenship the children born to diplomats or parents “in transit” for a period of ten days or less. Though the law conferred citizenship on the children of residents whose time in the country exceeded the ten-day period, civil registry officers engaged in widespread ad hoc denial of official birth certificates to thousands of Dominican-born children of Haitian parents whom they deemed to be “in transit.”

The recognition of Dominican nationality is based upon the possession of an official birth certificate issued by the civil registry. A birth certificate is a prerequisite to obtaining a national identity card upon reaching adulthood, which triggers multiple civil, political, social and economic rights, as well as the birth registration of one’s children. The inability to acquire nationality has thus been passed from Dominican-born parents of Haitian descent to their children over decades prior to the Court’s ruling.

The Constitutional Court ruling follows the legal codification of discriminatory practices over the past decade that has rendered thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent effectively stateless.  In 2004 the General Law on Migration expanded the “in transit” exception to apply to all non-residents, broadly defined to include the children of tourists, temporary workers, individuals with expired residency status, unauthorized migrants, and Haitian residents of the Dominican-Haitian border.[1] A 2008 report by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination identified widespread retroactive application of the migration law to deny Dominicans of Haitian descent access to official identity documents despite being born decades before its passage.[2]  In 2010, the Dominican government removed the constitutional birthright citizenship provision and made the acquisition of citizenship dependent on one’s parents’ migratory status.[3] The Constitutional Court ruling further applies retroactive treatment to Dominicans of Haitian descent born prior to the 2010 constitutional revision.

The first national-level survey of immigrants in the Dominican Republic found that there are 458,233 Haitian-born persons residing in the country as of 2013.  However, the number of Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent is unknown. [4] The Constitutional Court ruling stated that officials are reviewing the birth certificates of over 16,000 people born in the Dominican Republic since 1929. The government will produce a list of individuals excluded from citizenship within one year who may be subject to deportation to Haiti, where they also hold no legal status.[5] While the ruling cannot be repealed, advocates plan to seek assistance from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, possibly resulting in a case brought before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.[6]

A recent article in the Journal on Migration and Human Security titled Citizen or Subordinate: Permutations of Belonging in the United States and the Dominican Republic,” written by Shaina Aber and Mary Small of Jesuit Refugee Service USA, examines the debates around birthright citizenship in both countries.  The article details the practices of denial and revocation of citizenship for Dominicans of Haitian descent and the evolving legal justifications for these practices, motivated by a constriction of national identity and anti-Haitian discourse. In the United States, proposals to revoke birthright citizenship for the children of unauthorized immigrants stand little chance of success, but have nonetheless shifted the parameters of the immigration debate. The DREAMers in the United States and youth movements in the Dominican Republic seek to broaden concepts of societal belonging and membership, which may be the most effective way to defend birthright citizenship regimes.

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[1] Open Society Foundations. Dominicans of Haitian Descent and the Compromised Right to Nationality: Report presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on the Occasion of its 140th Session. New York: Open Society Institute, 2010. http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/sites/default/files/Dominican-Republic-Nationality-Report-ENG-20110805.pdf.

[2] UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Dominican Republic, UN Doc. CERD/C/DOM/CO/12, 16 May 2008, para. 14.

[3] Open Society Foundations, 2010.

[4] Oficina Nacional de Estadística. “Primera Encuesta Nacional de Inmigrantes en la República Dominicana.” Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, 2013. http://media.onu.org.do/ONU_DO_web/596/sala_prensa_publicaciones/docs/0565341001372885891.pdf

[5] Associated Press, “Dominican Court Ruling Strips Citizenship from Thousands of Offspring of Haitian Migrants,” Washington Post, September 26, 2013, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-09-26/world/42423002_1_haitian-migrants-dominicans-citizenship.

[6] Ibid.