Dominican court strips Haitian migrants of citizenship

On September 25, the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic decreed that between 200,000 and 300,000 persons born in the Dominican Republic of Haitian parentage must be stripped of their Dominican citizenship and the rights that go with it. Such people are to be considered “persons in transit” even if they were born in the country and have lived there all their lives. The court ordered the Dominican government to review the birth and citizenship records of all persons going back to 1929, and cancelling the citizenship of those whose parents had been undocumented immigrants from Haiti. President Danilo Medina promised to abide by the court ruling.

Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, but have a history of friction going back to the early 19th century. Most Dominicans speak Spanish while most Haitians speak Kreyol, which has French roots. As Haiti is poorer than the Dominican Republic, many Dominican landowners and businesspeople have brought in Haitian workers to do sweated labor at rock bottom wages, especially in the sugar cane fields, and as a result, a population of Haitian descent has built up over the years. Racist attitudes have played a part in negative attitudes toward Haitian immigrants, even though most Dominicans have African ancestry also.

In 1937, the Dominican dictator of the day, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, ordered the massacre of at least 20,000 Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent.

Trujillo was overthrown and killed in 1961, and in 1962 Dominicans elected a left-wing president, Juan Bosch, who called for a positive attitude toward Haiti and the Haitian people.

But Bosch was quickly overthrown by the military, who ruled the country briefly. In 1965, a popular revolt tried to restore Bosch and democracy, but U.S. President Lyndon Johnson sent in troops to suppress the rebellion and keep the right wing in power.

A Trujillo associate (he had been a puppet president under Trujillo) and fellow anti-Haitian bigot, Joaquin Balaguer, became president in 1966. Balaguer fully justified the 1937 massacre to as necessary to prevent the “Haitianization” of his country.

Meanwhile, Haiti was suffering under a series of corrupt U.S. supported dictators. This created more pressure for migration across the border to the Dominican Republic. In 1991, a radical Roman Catholic priest, Jean Bertrand Aristide, was elected president of Haiti with support from the poorest sections of the population. He was quickly overthrown. The Clinton administration aided Aristide’s return, but in exchange major trade concessions. Aristide was elected again in 2001, but was soon overthrown in another armed revolt abetted by the Bush administration as well as Canada and France.

In January of 2010, a huge earthquake hit Haiti, flattening much infrastructure and killing tens of thousands of people. The world made many promises of aid, but only some of it ever arrived, and Haiti is still in very bad shape. In subsequent elections, Aristide’s Lavalas party was not allowed to participate at the insistence of the United States, even though it is the biggest party in the country. The upshot was the election of rightist Mickey Martelly, the current president. Keeping a campaign promise, Martelly has promised to restore the Haitian Army, which was abolished by Aristide because all it had ever done in the recent past was carry out coups d’etat.

The circumstances following the earthquake naturally led to more undocumented immigration to the Dominican Republic.

Now, because of the Constitutional Court decision, thousands of people who were born in the Dominican Republic, and whose parents were also, are “allowed to work” but cannot benefit from government programs and services. Returning to Haiti is not an option; there are no jobs there and many of the people affected, having spent their entire lives in the Dominican Republic, don’t speak Kreyol, only Spanish. The court ruling is very dubious because it affects people born in the Dominican Republic from 1929 onward but retroactively, on the basis of a law passed in 2010. But there is no appeal. President Medina and other politicians have made vague statements about “regularizing” the situation.

The Haitian government sharply denounced the court ruling as did CARICOM, the Caribbean Community, an organization to which Haiti belongs but the Dominican Republic is trying to join. The Haitians withdrew their ambassador from Santo Domingo, and pointed out that Haitian workers in the Dominican Republic had been contributing to the Dominican economy for many decades.

Other regional leaders spoke up sharply. Ralph Goncalves, the leftist Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, denounced the Dominican move: “Surely, this ruling by the court is unacceptable in any civilized community. It is an affront to all established international norms and elemental humanity, and threatens to make the Dominican Republic a pariah regionally and globally.”

Photo: Haitian workers pile into a truck to get to their jobs. (Richie Diesterheft/Flickr/CC)



Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.