Protests Planned Over Court Decision Denying Citizenship to Dominicans of Haitian Descent

By Bryan Schaaf on Wednesday, October 2, 2013.

Below is an article by Ezra Fieser and Jacqueline Charles of the Miami Herald concerning a Dominican court ruling denying citizenship to Dominican-born children of Haitian immigrants.  Many of them have never been to Haiti but nevertheless will be denied access to education and opportunities as they lack citizenship from the country where they were born and raised.  Haiti has recalled its Ambassador and protests are planned by human rights activists. 

 

Dominican human rights activists Tuesday announced planned demonstrations across the country in coming days to protest a court ruling that effectively strips citizenship rights from Dominican-born children of Haitian immigrants. The announcement came as Haiti recalled its ambassador to the country for consultation on what Foreign Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir called a worrying decision by Dominican authorities on the fate of up to 300,000 people born in the country since 1929, most of whom are descendants of Haitians. The ruling from the nation’s top court cannot be appealed. Dominican officials defended the ruling, saying it ends uncertainty for children of immigrants and opens the door for them to apply for residency and eventually citizenship but no plan is currently in place. “The ruling unifies the country,” said Roberto Rosario, president of the Central Electoral Board, which is charged with creating the plan. “It clarifies and defines a legal way and provides a framework to seek a humanitarian way out for those people.”

 

In South Florida and Haiti, activists denounced the ruling. Jean-Robert Lafortune, head of the Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition in Miami, said it was “as barbaric and vicious of the ethnic cleansing action undertaken by” former Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Thousands of Haitians were rounded up and killed under Trujillo 76 years ago this month. Some say he was attempting to whiten the Dominican population. “The current court decision demands strong action against the Dominican Republic,” said Lafortune, who plans to meet Wednesday with other Haitian activists to consider, among other things, protests in front of Dominican consulates across the United States. Antonio Pol-Emil, a member of the Dominican-Haitian Cultural Center in Santo Domingo, said “racism permeated” the high court’s decision. “There are social groups in the Dominican Republic and in politics that work on the issue of immigration and because of their racist and anti-Haitian beliefs, they hold onto the idea that children of Haitian don’t have a right to citizenship,” he said at a Tuesday news conference called by more than a dozen Dominican civil society groups.

 

The birth-right decision came just days before the U.S. Department of Labor also cast a harsh spotlight on the state of Haitians in the Dominican Republic. A highly critical report found those working in the country’s profitable sugar industry are exposed to deplorable conditions that violate labor laws. Among the findings: Haitian sugarcane cutters were underpaid, overworked, living in unsanitary conditions, and many tricked into coming to the Dominican Republic. Taken together, the court ruling and labor report paint a bleak picture of life for Haitian immigrants and their families in the neighboring country on the island of Hispaniola.  “The truth is finally coming out,” said Father Christopher Hartley, a Roman Catholic priest who filed a complaint in 2010 under a trade pact that prompted the U.S. government to investigate practices in the Dominican sugar industry. “These are very clear human rights abuses, including the issue of statelessness,” Hartley told the Miami Herald in a telephone interview from his mission in a remote village in Ethiopia.

 

In Port-au-Prince, Haitian officials said Ambassador Fritz Cineas will consult with Casimir, Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and others about how to further respond to the ruling. “The [foreign minister] is very concerned by this decision,” a government statement said. Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Haitian workers have crossed into the wealthier Dominican Republic. The 2013 immigrant survey found 458,233 Haitians live in the country, the vast majority of them without documentation. But with economic opportunities have also come hardship and a life of uncertainty. Juliana Deguis Pierre’s father migrated from Haiti to the eastern Dominican Republic decades ago. Despite being born on Dominican soil and given citizenship, she was stripped of it in 2008 because her parents were undocumented. She has been unable to get a certified copy of her birth certificate, which is needed in the Dominican Republic to do basic tasks, such as work in the formal sector, marry, get health insurance and apply for a passport. “I’m Dominican,” Deguis said. “I’ve never been to Haiti, not once.” The latest legal decision even affects her children. Her 12-year-old son has been unable to take required exams because school officials have asked for his birth certificate. “It’s essentially a life suspended,” her lawyer, Manuel de Jesus Dandre, said. Deguis’ case was used by the Constitutional Court in its ruling last week, in which they decided she could apply for residency as a foreigner but did not qualify for citizenship.

 

After the ruling, the UN Refugee agency said it is “deeply concerned by a [decision] … that could render as stateless countless Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent, many of whom have lived in the Dominican Republic for decades.” A leading Haiti opposition leader Tuesday called for a united stand by the country’s politicians and civic leaders. “If Haitians are to be respected everywhere, they have to first be protected where they live,” said Sauveur Pierre Etienne, the national coordinator of the Organization of People in Struggle (OPL). “It concerns the opposition civil society, the diaspora. This isn’t a question of which party is in power.” The Dominican government estimates 244,151 children of immigrants live in the Dominican Republic, but the number affected by the ruling is exponentially higher because it covers all those born since 1929. And just like those who have lived in the Dominican Republic for decades don’t enjoy much protection, so too is the case among those working in Dominican sugar fields, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The report, released Friday, marks the first time that the U.S. government has exhaustively investigated and condemned the situation. Investigators interviewed dozens of workers, industry executives, government officials and members of civil society.

 

It found laborers often work more than eight hours but are paid less than the minimum wage because they are paid by the amount of cane they cut. Workers live in squalid communities, known as bateys, that, “often lack adequate housing, medical services, other basic sanitary services,” and clean drinking water, the report said. “Some days are good, some days are bad. But it’s always hard work,” Luis Nacis Ramon, a Haitian who migrated in 1982, told the Herald. The report has potentially far-reaching consequences, as the U.S. imports more sugar from the Dominican Republic than any other country. The Labor Department made a series of recommendations, including strengthening inspections and enforcing labor laws. It also announced it will spend $10 million to reduce child labor and improve conditions in the country. The department said it would revisit the situation in six months and in a year. The Dominican sugar industry dismissed the report, saying it reflected claims of a man who was kicked out of the country years ago. Hartley, an outspoken advocate for Haitian workers who took on the country’s powerful sugar barons and was forced out in 2006, said he felt vindicated by the ruling. “This is not me saying this anymore,” he said. “The situation is clear.”

Stateless Woman Fights for Her Rights in the DR (5/13/2014)

Thomson Reuters Foundation
By Anastasia Moloney
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Juliana Deguis was born in the Dominican Republic and has lived in the Caribbean country her entire life. It is the only home she has ever known. But she can’t vote, get legally married, travel abroad, get a formal job, open a bank account, own property or file a police report. These are just some of the ways her life and basic rights are affected because Deguis is stateless - a person who is not recognised as a citizen by any country in the world. Over the past decade the Dominican government has made several changes to the country’s citizenship laws. Rights groups say these have denied Dominicans of Haitian descent, like Deguis, their identity documents and stripped them of their nationality, leaving an estimated 200,000 or more stateless. “I’m Dominican. I feel Dominican. I was born and raised here and so were all of my four children. I’ve never even left the country. But the government doesn’t recognise me as a citizen. It hurts not having a nationality,” said 30-year-old Deguis. “This is my home but I’m a nobody in my own country,” she told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview from the capital Santo Domingo.
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Last September, Dominican Republic’s top court passed a ruling revoking the citizenship of those born in the country to foreign migrants who did not have a legal residence permit on the grounds their parents were considered to be seasonal workers “in transit”. The Dominican Republic shares the Caribbean island of Hispaniola with Haiti, and the decision affects mainly Dominican-born people of Haitian descent. The ruling applies to people who were officially registered as Dominicans as far back as 1929 and in many cases it will affect their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The decision by the Constitutional Tribunal of the Dominican Republic, along with previous changes to nationality laws, could affect up to 220,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent born and raised in the country, according to Deguis’ lawyer.
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The Dominican government has said changes to the nationality laws are about tackling decades of illegal migration and are not aimed at removing citizenship. Like most stateless people in the Dominican Republic, Deguis is the child of Haitian migrants who crossed the border to escape political violence or seek a better life. Many ended up working as sugarcane cutters providing the country with cheap labour, settling in impoverished and isolated communities known as bateyes. Hopes were raised among Dominicans of Haitian descent in February this year when the government of Danilo Medina announced it would propose a new draft bill on citizenship and submit it to the country’s congress to find a solution for those whose nationality had been revoked following the September ruling.
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Last month, the United Nations refugee agency reiterated its call for the Dominican authorities to restore the nationality of Dominicans of Haitian descent who were rendered stateless by the court’s decision. But they are still waiting for the proposed bill and, with no solution in sight, remain stuck in a legal limbo, facing an uncertain future on the margins of society. Meanwhile, deportations of undocumented Dominicans of Haitian descent continue, though at a slower pace than in previous years, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
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When Deguis turned 18, she applied like all citizens do, to get a national identity card. But despite having a birth certificate proving she was born in the Dominican Republic she was denied an identity card in 2004 and has been fighting ever since to be issued one. “It’s difficult to do anything without an ID card. I don’t have the right to work. No-one will give you a formal job and a decent wage without one. Because I’m not working, my children suffer as a result,” said the soft-spoken Deguis. Without an identity card, Deguis was unable to register the births of her four children at hospitals in the country, which means in turn they are not recognised as citizens by the Dominican authorities and are stateless too. Deguis worries that her children could be kicked out of school at any time because they need to show their birth certificates to be officially enrolled at school. “Almost every month the school asks me for the girl’s birth certificates so they can continue studying. I keep having to ask them to wait so I can sort out the paperwork. I don’t know for how long more the school will wait. I’m at their mercy,” said Deguis.
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Local lawyers working with international rights groups have taken the case of Deguis and 79 other Dominicans of Haitian descent, including 32 children, to the Washington-based IACHR rights commission to prevent their deportation and put pressure on the Dominican authorities to issue with them with national identity cards. The U.S-based Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, one of several rights groups behind the appeal to the commission, has described the plight of stateless people in the country as a ‘xenophobic denationalisation campaign’ against Dominicans of Haitian descent. Last year, the commission ruled in favour of Deguis and other stateless people in the case. But they have not been granted Dominican nationality, their lawyers say.
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“The commission handed down a precautionary measure against the Dominican Republic, saying the country is legally obliged to respect their right to nationality. But the government hasn’t acted upon the commission’s ruling. Juliana and others still haven’t been issued their identity cards,” said Manuel de Jesus Dandre, one of Deguis’ lawyers, who works with the rights group Socio-Cultural Movement for Haitian Workers (MOSCTHA). “We’ll continue the fight. The next step is to go to the highest court,” he said, referring to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica, the top human rights court for the Americas. Dandre is also the child of Haitian migrants. He does have an identity card but he fears he might not have it for much longer. The government has recently required all citizens in the Dominican Republic to get new identity cards with updated security features.
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“There’s no doubt I and others will have problems when we go to renew our identity cards soon. I expect the authorities will deny me a new one as I’m representing those people who are fighting against the state,” Dandre told Thomson Reuters Foundation from Santo Domingo. “I could lose my job. I need an identity card to present before a judge when working in court. How will I look after my family if I don’t get one? My life could be put on hold - as we say here a civil death.”

DR Leader's Bill Could Naturalize Thousands (AP-5/15/2014)

BY EZEQUIEL ABIU LOPEZ
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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- The Dominican leader on Thursday submitted a bill to Congress that he says would create a path to naturalized citizenship for thousands of people of Haitian descent who were born in the Dominican Republic. The proposed legislation from President Danilo Medina's office was initially expected to be submitted to lawmakers in February but was delayed. It will first be taken up by the lower house, which is expected to create a committee to analyze the bill. It's not clear when a vote would take place. In a Thursday statement, Medina's administration said the measure is designed to find a "humanitarian, measured and responsible" solution for those people impacted by a controversial court decision last year that narrowed the definition of Dominican citizenship.
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The Dominican Constitutional Court ruled that being born in the country does not automatically grant citizenship, and it directed officials to purge voter rolls of non-citizens, including people born to non-legal residents going back to 1929. These are almost entirely people of Haitian descent. Advocates said the ruling threatened to strip Dominican citizenship from more than 200,000 people, along with the documents they need to work or attend school. The government said their count came to roughly 24,000. The ruling is a reflection of deep hostility in the Dominican Republic to the large number of Haitians who have come to live in their country and their descendants. The two countries share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola.
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Medina's bill would confirm citizenship rights for children born to foreign parents, but only those who are registered with the government and have various identification documents. Cesar Pina Toribio, a legal adviser to Medina, said the path to naturalization is for those people who can "prove they were born in the Dominican Republic." Those who were born in the Dominican Republic but have no documents to prove it could be recognized as foreigners with residency, according to Medina's new proposal. Critics like lawyer Maria Martinez said the vast majority of the people impacted by last year's court ruling are descendants of migrants brought in to work on sugar plantations and who never registered with the government and have no ID. She said Medina's bill would force these people to register as aliens in the land of their birth.

US Walks Tightrope on Controversial Dominican Ruling (3/12/2014)

Miami Herald
By Ezra Fieser
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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- A controversial court ruling that affects thousands of Dominican-born children of Haitian immigrants has laid bare a division in the influential Catholic Church and posed a diplomatic quandary for the United States. Vice President Joe Biden was expected to urge the Dominican government in a visit this week to find a “just solution” that would potentially include legislation specifically aimed at more than 24,000 people affected by the ruling, a senior Obama administration official said. But Biden’s visit was scrapped at the last minute because of the standoff in the Ukraine.
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Biden’s planned visit was seen as an important show of support for embattled U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, an openly gay former Obama fundraiser whose appointment to the post angered the leadership of the powerful Catholic Church, making it more difficult for the embassy to advocate for a change to the court ruling. “There is an outcry of opposition to ‘Wally.’ We’re a very conservative society in respect to sexual orientation,” said Emelio Betances, a Dominican scholar and author of The Catholic Church and Power Politics in Latin America: The Dominican Case in Comparative Perspective, referring to the ambassador, James Brewster, by his nickname. “In a small country like the Dominican Republic, the church is very influential, very involved in politics.” Medina’s administration has come under fire since the ruling came down in September. The high court’s decision, which cannot be appealed, states children of undocumented immigrants — many being sons and daughters of Haitian migrant workers — are not entitled to Dominican citizenship even if they were born in the country.
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Human rights groups say those affected will be left functionally stateless, although the government says it is developing a plan that will regularize their status and allow them to eventually apply for naturalization. Nearly six months after it was handed down, the ruling, referred to simply as la sentencia, has become one of the most polarizing social questions in recent years. Critics call it racially motivated, xenophobic and anti-Haitian. And its backers say succumbing to international pressure would be tantamount to signing away Dominican sovereignty. “You see a very divided reaction to the ruling, even among members of the government,” said Julio César De la Rosa Tiburcio, a law professor at the Autonomous University of Santo Domingo. “It has certainly put the country in a very difficult position internationally.” Nowhere has the division been as clear as within the Catholic Church, where the conservative Cardinal Nicolás de Jesús López Rodríguez has supported the ruling, opposed the appointment of Brewster as ambassador and influenced the government.
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As a result, members of the government and civil society here say, the U.S. has had to walk a diplomatic tightrope. Members of civil society groups working on issues related to Haitian migration said the U.S. has been less vocal on the court ruling than they expected, even while many other foreign governments have aggressively opposed it. “The embassy is involved, and they continue to support the work. But I think these groups would like to see someone be more outspoken,” said a human rights worker who asked not to be named because she works closely with groups that receive U.S. funds. When he was appointed, Brewster joined a small but increasing group of gay ambassadors. The news was divisive in the majority Catholic Dominican Republic, with church leaders fearing the new ambassador would work behind the scene to push for many of the same gay-rights laws that have been passed in the U.S.
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Instead of finding a partner within the church’s hierarchy, Brewster has found an enemy. The reaction to his appointment hit a low point when Lopez referred to Brewster with a derogatory term in Spanish. Neither the embassy nor Lopez returned Miami Herald calls and emails seeking comment. More recently, Brewster and his husband met with Dominican gay-rights groups at the embassy. The Dominican ambassador to the Vatican, Victor Grimaldi, responded to that meeting by writing an open letter to Pope Francis in which he said, “Just when the constitution of the Dominican Republic establishes that marriage is between a man and a woman here comes the new United States ambassador — ‘married’ with a man — to meet with a gay and transsexual group that has opposed the Catholic church and alleges that the Dominican Republic is a secular state.”
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Although the Foreign Ministry distanced itself from his comments, Grimaldi’s letter went on to defend the cardinal in a clear indication of the influence the Catholic Church wields in the Dominican government. Lopez’s position appears to stand in contrast with that of the pope who surprised many last year when he said, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” Yet, the pope has not called for Lopez’s resignation, although he is 77, two years past the age at which bishops traditionally retire. Lopez has also been a staunch defender of the court ruling, calling on foreign institutions, including non-government organizations, to butt out. “Nobody is above the Constitutional Court,” he said in October. While Lopez has been the most vocal proponent of the ruling, other bishops have not spoken out. “There have been some timid expressions of support from some bishops for the plight of the Haitians, however they are never going to openly confront the cardinal,” said Christopher Hartley, a Catholic priest who worked for years in sugar cane cutter communities before being kicked out of the Dominican Republic. He is now working in Ethiopia. “They are a very scared lot.”
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That alignment has left Catholic groups working on the issue in a precarious position. The Jesuits, in particular, are leading the charge to change the court ruling or for the government to pass legislation to regularize their status. “What we are calling for is for the government to pass a comprehensive bill that would address the needs of those affected by the court ruling,” said Mario Serrano, a Catholic priest who, like Pope Francis, is a Jesuit. Serrano, an outspoken critic of the government on the ruling, has been targeted by Lopez. Last month, Dominican journalists recorded and published Lopez saying Serrano should “shut up” and stop “talking idiocy.”

DR President Hints at Legal Help for Haitian Migrants

2/27/2014
By Jacqueline Charles
jcharles@MiamiHerald.com
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Dominican President Danilo Medina said Thursday he plans to present a bill to his country’s leaders to address thousands of persons born to undocumented foreigners but not considered Dominican citizens. Medina made the announcement at end of an almost two-hour long speech before his country’s National Assembly on the 170th anniversary of his country’s independence from neighboring Haiti. He did not give a timetable. The naturalization bill was part of the commitment he made to the European Union, United Nations and others, Medina said, but he did not elaborate — leaving some to wonder if it will resolve the conflict created by a Sept. 23 Constitutional Court stating anyone born to undocumented parents cannot be considered Dominican. The controversial decision was made retroactive to 1929 and affects thousands, the majority of whom are of Haitian descent.
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As Medina addressed lawmakers, Haitians in Miami, New York, Chicago and Montreal rallied in the streets, calling for a boycott of the country’s tourism industry until the decision is reversed. In recent months, popular Haitian bands have canceled scheduled shows and the National Bar Association, a U.S. group made up predominantly of black lawyers, also relocated a March conference. “Every human being is born with inalienable rights, and denying these rights is racist, cruel, and inhumane,” said protest organizer Marleine Bastien, who heads Haitian Women of Miami. “The world should continue to stand up together in protest, just like it did with Apartheid in South Africa because as Dr. Martin Luther King wisely stated: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ ” The anti-Dominican protests also came as hundreds of Haitians in the island rallied to remember the 10th anniversary of the second forced departure of former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. They also decried corruption under current President Michel Martelly, and called on him to hold long overdue elections.

Haiti to Register Haitian Migrants Abroad (2/11/2014)

Associated Press
By TRENTON DANIEL
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Haiti is launching a program to register its migrants who live without documentation abroad, including in the Dominican Republic, where thousands of people of Haitian origin are in danger of being left stateless by a court ruling. Government workers will travel to remote corners of the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos, which also has a large Haitian population, to register Haitian citizens residing there without legal papers, Baptiste Saint-Cyr, director of the country's National Identification Office, told private Radio Metropole on Tuesday. The $2.5 million project begins next month and will be carried out in other countries where Haitian migrants live, Saint-Cyr said. Haitian immigrants will be identified with the help of neighbors.
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The program comes after a Dominican constitutional court last fall moved to revoke the citizenship of people of Haitian descent even if they were born in the Dominican Republic. The ruling aggravated already uneasy relations between the Caribbean neighbors, and it drew condemnation from human rights groups while spurring protests and boycotts in Haiti. Advocacy groups fear the ruling renders people of Haitian descent stateless, but the Dominican government maintains they never had citizenship in the first place. The two countries began closed-door discussions this year in an effort to stem tension over the ruling and other differences, with representatives from the U.N., Caribbean Community, European Union and Venezuela serving as observers. The decision to document Haitians who live in the Dominican Republic emerged as one of several agreements from those talks.
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Dominican officials have said the court ruling is irreversible but a resolution appears to be a possibility. In front of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States in Washington last Friday, Haitian President Michel Martelly expressed hope that the meetings would yield a positive outcome. "In the context of these negotiations, the Dominican Republic has adopted a series of commitments that should allow us to find a successful solution, something we firmly desire," he said. Dominican President Danilo Medina is supposed to submit a bill to his congress Feb. 27 that would allow for the naturalization of people born in the country who could be affected by the court ruling.
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Associated Press writer Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, contributed to this report.

© 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

Democracy at Risk for Dominicans (Miami Herald - 12/26/2013)

Miami Herald
By Roger F. Noriega
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The international community has justifiably condemned a decision by the supreme court of the Dominican Republic revoking the citizenship of as many as 350,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent. Unfortunately, that decision in September was just the latest in a pattern of cynical, partisan actions that threaten the rule of law and economic growth in that nation. Dominicans of goodwill must act to restore the probity and independence of their institutions to secure a better future for all of its citizens. Early this month, the respected Inter-American Commission on Human Rights paid an urgent visit to that country to study the implications of the decision to retroactively apply a 2010 constitutional amendment that redefined citizenship rights, effectively stripping multitudes of their “right to nationality.” The commission urgently issued a series of unambiguous recommendations insisting that the Dominican state take “simple, clear, fast, and fair” steps to “guarantee the right to nationality of those individuals who already had this right” before the ruling.
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The court’s decision has been defended as a measure needed to address legitimate concerns over illegal immigration. However, even before this draconian court decision was issued, electoral authorities had refused to provide voter identification cards to thousands of persons of Haitian background. That is a clue that this dubious decision is likely a shameless political maneuver of the ruling Dominican Liberation Party (PLD) to disqualify voters of Haitian descent who tend to vote overwhelmingly for the opposition Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD). For example, the late José Francisco Peña Gómez, the proud son of Haitian immigrants, was a pillar of the PRD.
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The PLD’s boss, former President Leonel Fernández, has named his partisans to the supreme court and the electoral tribunal — which explains why these important institutions of the state serve his political interests. For example, the current chief justice, Mariano Germán Mejía, was Fernández’s law partner, and another justice, Marta Olga García, is the sister-in-law of Miguel Vargas, a fellow caudillo with whom Fernández is conspiring to hijack the opposition PRD. Although the electoral tribunal is supposed to be a panel of impartial magistrates who run all national elections, its members were chosen based on their loyalty to Fernández and/or the ruling PLD. Fernández has wielded his absolute control of the tribunal to rig recent elections to deny the opposition party proportional representation in the congress; for example, although the PRD won nearly 42 percent of the nationwide vote in 2010, it claimed only one of 32 Senate seats.
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The former president’s egregious manipulation of state institutions to build a “one-party state” is chronicled in a report issued in November by the prestigious Washington, D.C., think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), authored by veteran U.S. Senate advisor Carl Meacham. Meacham highlights a brazen maneuver by Fernández to make a pact with former PRD candidate Miguel Vargas to usurp control of the PRD, oust the party’s strongest leaders, and undermine the party’s ability to muster a viable campaign against the ruling PLD. “The Superior Electoral Tribunal (TSE) has ensured the continued disunity of the PRD,” Meacham reports. “Given its discretionary involvement in preserving Miguel Vargas’ PRD presidency — and its decision not to engage in the party’s expulsion of former president Hipólito Mejía — some fear that the TSE is playing an undue and decisive role in crippling the PLD’s primary opposition.”
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Dysfunctional institutions will trap all Dominicans in corruption and economic decline. According to Transparency International (TI), the country is ranked 123rd in the world in terms of corruption; only Venezuela, Paraguay, Honduras and Nicaragua have worse ratings in the Americas. A State Department report this year noted that, “Corruption remains endemic at all levels of Dominican society. Dominican law enforcement, military, and government officials are often accused of a range of corrupt activities including narcotics trafficking, money laundering, extrajudicial killing and other crimes.” Not surprisingly, the CSIS report notes that Fernández or his allies have been accused of corruption, money laundering and other serious crimes. For example, Vargas was accused in sworn testimony earlier this year of accepting $300,000 from reputed drug kingpin Jose David Figueroa Agosto in 2008.
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Haitian Dominicans are not the only citizens paying a price for systematic corruption. Perhaps the current international scandal generated by the Supreme Court’s careless ruling will spur the nation’s political class and civil society to agree on an urgent overhaul of its judicial and electoral institutions. Only then will the Dominican Republic return to being a good neighbor and productive partner for both the region and the United States.
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Roger F. Noriega was U.S. ambassador to the OAS and assistant secretary of state during the George W. Bush administration. He is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and managing director of VisionAmericas LLC, which represents U.S. and foreign clients.

Haiti, DR To Discuss Court Ruling (12/19/2013)

Associated Press
By TRENTON DANIEL
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Haiti and the Dominican Republic will meet next month in an effort to resolve questions over a widely debated court decision that could render thousands of Haitian Dominicans stateless, Haiti's foreign minister said Thursday. Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre-Richard Casimir told The Associated Press that five senior officials from each country will meet on Jan. 7 in the Haitian border town of Ouanaminthe. With representatives from the United Nations, European Union and Caribbean present, they plan to discuss commerce and security issues but will focus mostly on a recent court decision in the Dominican Republic that threatens to strip citizenship from residents born to migrants who were living in the country illegally. Many of those affected are of Haitian descent. "The main issue is the court ruling," Casimir said by telephone.
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The gathering follows a meeting in Caracas this week by Haitian President Michel Martelly and Dominican President Danilo Medina at a conference for countries that belong to a Venezuelan trade bloc. The two countries that share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola had stopped talking to each other after Caribbean leaders became the latest international group to condemn the court ruling. Each had also pulled its ambassador from the other's country. Tensions arose around the same time when the Dominican military bused more than 350 Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent to the border following the killing of a Dominican couple. Dominican authorities said people left on their own accord because they feared reprisals. The Dominican Republic has since promised to halt such repatriations, Casimir said. Migrant advocates say the September ruling from the Dominican Republic's highest court affects some 200,000 people, who could lose their citizenship and the documents they need to work or attend school. The Dominican government said in a preliminary report that only about 24,000 people would be affected.

Haiti Protest Derides DR Court Ruling (AP - 12/6/2013)

By EVENS SANON
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Hundreds of protesters gathered Friday to criticize a recent court decision in the Dominican Republic that could strip the citizenship of generations of people of Haitian descent living in the neighboring country. The crowd peaked at about 2,000 people but thinned out during the march uphill to the Dominican Embassy to protest the decision passed two months ago by that country's court. The demonstrators urged people to boycott travel to the Dominican Republic. Riot police set up metal barricades on a major thoroughfare that block protesters from reaching the district where the diplomatic mission is located.
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The ruling has been met with sharp objection, from Caribbean leaders to the United Nations. On Friday, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights became the latest international entity to oppose the court decision, calling on the Dominican government to take urgent measures to guarantee the rights of those people affected. Advocacy groups estimate 200,000 people, many of them of Haitian descent, could lose their Dominican citizenship because of the court ruling. Dominican officials say only about 24,000 would be affected. Haitian officials have said little about the matter. President Michel Martelly has called it a "Dominican issue" and Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe posted on Facebook that a lot "is being done to solve the problem."
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The lack of a robust response from the Haitian government was cited as one reason for the protest, which started out to oppose the Dominican court ruling, then turned into an anti-government demonstration. Protesters carried a white wooden coffin spray-painted with the slogan "Down with Martelly," then later burned it. Friday's march is the latest of recent protests in Haiti, many of them critical of Martelly's government. A few have turned violent, with anti-government demonstrators last week burning tires outside the U.S. Embassy as they pressed for the departure of Martelly, accusing the U.S. of interfering in Haiti's domestic politics. Haiti and the Dominican Republic have long had a volatile relationship as neighbors on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. But the Dominican Republic put aside such differences and was among the first responders after Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake.

UNHCR Urges DR To Restore Nationality (12/5/20130

UNHCR urges Dominican Republic to restore nationality
UNHCR urges the Dominican Republic to rapidly take steps to restore the nationality of individuals affected by a ruling of the Constitutional Court, which deprives tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their nationality, rendering them stateless.
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UNHCR expresses deep concern that two months after the ruling, the situation of this population has not yet been adequately addressed by the authorities. This week, the Dominican Government announced its intention to submit to Congress a bill to allow the affected population to apply for naturalization.
As a result of this proposed measure, individuals who have been considered Dominican citizens their entire lives will need to apply for naturalization.
International legal standards require that the Government automatically restores the nationality of all individuals affected by the ruling and respects their acquired rights. A simple and rapid procedure is needed so that they can obtain their identity documents.
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On 23 September, a ruling by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic introduced a new interpretation of the criteria for acquisition of Dominican nationality with regard to children of irregular migrants born in the country.
The Court decided to apply the new criteria retroactively to 1929 and, as a result, concluded that several generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent, many officially registered as Dominican citizens at birth, no longer meet the criteria for Dominican nationality.
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UNHCR emphasizes that the individuals affected by the judgment are not migrants and that they have deep roots in the country. The organization encourages the Dominican Republic to recognize and take action to resolve this human rights problem.
UNHCR has a mandate from the UN General Assembly to identify, prevent and reduce statelessness and protect stateless persons.
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For further information, please contact:
In Washington, Brian Hansford on mobile +1 202 999 8523
In Geneva, Babar Baloch on mobile +41 79 557 9106

DR Sends 464 Haitians Back to Haiti (AP - 11/28/2013)

Authorities in the Dominican Republic have sent more Haitians and others of Haitian descent across the border into Haiti. The communication office for Haitian Prime Minister said Thursday that the country has this week received a total of 464 people, 133 of them children. Haitians and Haitian-descended Dominicans began crossing the border after a Dominican mob killed a Haitian man suspected of involvement in the slaying of an elderly Dominican couple in an apparent burglary. Dominican officials say people are leaving on their own accord because they fear further retaliation. Migrant advocates say people are coerced into leaving with threats. The departures come amid strained relations over a Dominican court's ruling to strip citizenship from some residents who are mostly of Haitian descent.

Dominican Ofdicials Cancel Meeting with Haiti (AP - 11/27/13)

By EZEQUIEL ABIU LOPEZ
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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — The Dominican Republic announced Wednesday that it would no longer meet with Haitian officials to talk about a court ruling that could strip citizenship from those born to migrants living in the country illegally. The decision comes a day after the Caribbean Community criticized the ruling and said it would defer a Dominican request to become a member of the trade bloc. Dominican Presidential Minister Gustavo Montalvo said the government canceled a meeting scheduled for Saturday in Venezuela because it feels Haiti violated an earlier agreement to prioritize bilateral dialogue in the case. "Haiti has chosen to take another road and that puts an end to our conversations at this time," he said in a statement. Montalvo did not comment further. Meanwhile, Jose Ramon Fadul, president of the Dominican Republic's National Migration Council, accused Caricom of interference and retaliation. Haiti President Michel Martelly had attended Caricom's meeting and said he was supposed to meet with Dominican officials by week's end, noting he wanted to see concrete action taken.
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The rise in tensions between the two countries that share the island of Hispaniola comes as more than 350 Haitians and people of Haitian descent were expelled or volunteered to leave the Dominican Republic. The exodus followed the killing of an elderly Dominican couple during an apparent burglary near the border, and the subsequent slaying of a Haitian man by a mob of Dominicans. Salim Succar, an adviser to Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, said he deeply regrets the Dominican government's decision.
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"We remain very open and committed to discuss decisions that affect both our nations," he said. "We are very concerned by the massive repatriation of Haitians and urge the government to take all measures to protect and defend the human rights of our fellow Haitians living in their country." During the weekend meeting, Dominican and Haitian officials had been scheduled to meet Saturday in Caracas, Venezuela to talk about a plan to assimilate those affected by the ruling, which states that those born in the Dominican Republic since 1929 to foreigners living illegally in the country are not automatically granted citizenship. Advocates have said some 200,000 people could lose their citizenship and documents they need to work or attend school. The Dominican government said in a preliminary report that only about 24,000 people would be affected.

New Violence Against Haitians in the DR (HCNN -11/27/2013)

By Joseph Guyler Delva
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New violence staged by Dominicans against Haitians living in the Dominican Republic could further jeopardize the already tense relations that exist between Haiti and the neighbouring Caribbean country, which are already engaged in difficult talks over a controversial Dominican constitutional court ruling. According to several reports from the Dominican town of Neyba, at least four Haitians were killed by Dominican citizens acting in reprisal to the killing on Saturday evening of a Dominican couple, blamed on Haitians. One Haitian was immediately killed after the death of the couple was reported, even though the circumstances surrounding the fatalities until late Monday evening remained unclear. "A lady told us her husband was killed under her yes and we have witnesses who confirmed they were forced to bury two Haitians who were killed," Jean-Baptiste Asolin, a refugee rights advocate working on the case, told HCNN on Monday. Asolin, who is the deputy coordinator for the Support Group for Repatriated Refugees (GARR), said four other people are reported killed, but the organization still has to confirm these deaths.
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Haitian Interior Minister David Bazile said representatives of the Haitian government are collecting information on the field and a report will be released soon in order to clarify the situation and to determine further steps to take. Haiti and the Dominican Republic are already debating a very thorny issue regarding a recent constitutional court ruling that strips citizenship from several hundred thousand Dominicans of Haitian descent, a decision that has caused a very uncomfortable situation between the two countries sharing the island. After the incidents, Dominican Republic authorities deported 347 Haitians, many of whom had taken refuge in the police precinct in Neyba, after been terrorized attacked or threatened to death and chased by angry Dominicans. Several witnesses said the death toll is higher and could reach up to 34 victims, but the Haitian interior minister said such figures have not been confirmed. He called on angry Haitians to refrain from taking any sort of revenge, as some voices have emotionally suggested. "We are asking all Haitians to remain calm and to act responsibly toward Dominicans living here," Bazile told HCNN. "There is a problem and the government is dealing with it through the appropriate channels and the idea of considering any attack on Dominicans won't be tolerated and will be punished," he said.
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The chairman of Haiti's Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Wencessclass Lambert, said a delegation of Haitian lawmakers will travel to the Dominican Republic to investigate the reported killings. "I am going to meet with the chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee at the lower chamber, Abel Descollines to plan a fact-finding mission to Neyba in order to determine exactly what happened," said Lambert who has already condemned the reported reprisals on Haitians. Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic's government has denied that several Haitians were killed during the violent incidents. In a press release issued on Tuesday, the Dominican Embassy in Haiti reported that only one Haitian national, Andres Pierre, known as "Coito Pie", was killed by a group of people who were outraged because of the crime he had committed against Jose Mendez and his wife Luja Encarnacion diaz.
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Another individual of Haitian origin, Papo Sani, is also accused in the murder, Dominican officials said. According to the press release, the alleged murderers meant to rob the victim couple of part of their coffee crop. "Under the influence of anger, some Dominicans have threatened to kill other Haitian nationals, reason why many of them feel threatened, abandoned their homes to seek refuge in the military base of the place where they received military protection," the communiqué read. At the request of those who felt persecuted, the military accompanied them to the border of Jimani-Malpasse to help them get to Haiti, according to Dominican officials. "This sudden exit suggests that the Dominican Republic, is currently conducting a massive deportation of Haitian workers and this is not the case," said the Dominican government. Several hundred people, including more than one hundred children were repatriated to Haiti on Saturday and Sunday. The Dominican ambassador to Haiti, Ruben Silie Valdes, said the repatriations were not linked in any way with the recent constitutional court ruling. Dominican officials said the situation in the Municipality of Neyba is, at the moment, under the control of the authorities and efforts are made to ensure that calm returns in the community. Many fear the new developments could further jeopardize efforts by both countries and governments to overcome pending contentious matters.

as Haitian, I say that every

as Haitian, I say that every country, including Haiti, has their rights to control their own lands, their labors/markets, their resources,etc. In addition, Haitians can not any longer continue to fuel the RD with cheap labor while living in misery or being stateless. Freely,Dominican women in Haiti are selling their sex for money , they bring prostitution to us; whereas the poor Haitian laborers in the RD are being tortured over someone else prejudice. It is about time for God's believers, moral, and educated Haitians to really come together to find solutions by fighting the anti-Christ/devil of racism which try to steal our souls.

Killings Along Haiti-DR Border Prompt Expulsion (11/24/13)

The Associated Press
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- A Haitian priest and migrant advocate says Dominican authorities have expelled 244 Haitians after the killing of three people along the border between the two countries. The Rev. Antoine Lissaint of the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Organization said Sunday that people of Haitian descent were blamed for fatally stabbing a married Dominican couple. A Dominican mob retaliated by killing a Haitian man. Haitians living in the southwestern Dominican town of Neiba for the past several years sought refuge at a police station because they feared reprisal. Police handed the group to Dominican soldiers who drove them to the border and expelled them back into Haiti. Relations between the Caribbean neighbors have become increasingly strained since a Dominican court decision in September threatened to strip citizenship for people of Haitian descent.

Deportation Fears on Rise in Dominican Republic (11/21/2013)

Associated Press
By Ben Fox
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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Wilver Cuevas Betances was born in the Dominican Republic and never left until he ran into some soldiers at a bus station in Santo Domingo who demanded his passport. "I don't have a passport. I'm Dominican," the 29-year-old recalls telling the soldiers. Ignoring his pleas, his perfect Spanish, and the Dominican identification card showing his birthplace, they deported him the following day across the border to Haiti. Four days later, after a night on a park bench in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince, he sat in wrinkled clothes in the office of a migrant assistance group, struggling to make himself understood in the unfamiliar language of Creole, the French-based language spoken in Haiti. "I have nothing here," he said. "I don't know anyone." Migrant advocates are bracing for more abrupt deportations to impoverished Haiti as a result of a recent Dominican court ruling that narrows the definition of citizenship. So far, there have not been mass deportations, but there are growing accounts of people being summarily kicked out of the country, in some cases apparently based solely on the color of their skin.
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"Blacks are hardly going out because they're picking up a lot of dark-skinned people," Cuevas said in an interview Thursday at the office of the Support Group for Repatriates and Refugees, a nongovernmental organization. In September, the Dominican Constitutional Court ruled that being born in the country does not automatically grant citizenship, and it directed officials to purge voter rolls of non-citizens, including people born to non-legal residents going back to 1929. Advocates say 200,000 people could be stripped of citizenship, along with the documents they need to work or attend school, although the government says an initial count came to about 24,000. The ruling, based on a new 2010 constitution, is a reflection of deep hostility in the Dominican Republic to the vast number of Haitians who have come to live in their country, many brought in to work in the sugar industry and their descendants. "Deportations have been fairly steady since 2007. Using the court ruling as a justification is new," said Tobias Metzner, a Haiti-based counter-trafficking program manager for the International Organization for Migration. "The legal context has changed."
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Cesar Pina Toribio, a legal adviser to Dominican President Danilo Medina, made a lengthy defense of the government position to the Organization of American States last month, arguing that the country seeks only to gain control over its citizenship rolls and will develop a path to permanent legal residency. But no details have been provided, and the law is already having consequences. There are accounts of people who have been reported to immigration authorities and deported after squabbling with their neighbors or being abruptly thrown out of the country at a time when their employers are having financial difficulties, Metzner said. Migrants say they have paid bribes to soldiers to keep from being detained, or were held when they couldn't come up with enough cash, said Colette Lespinasse, director of the Support Group for Repatriates and Refugees, known by its French acronym as GARR. And there are widespread reports that authorities are deporting or seizing the residency documents of people with darker skin or French names that may signal Haitian ancestry. People like 23-year-old Dilsia Teresa Jean, who has lived her whole life in a town northwest of Santo Domingo, fear venturing into the capital. "I'm afraid they are going to arrest me," she said. "The bus drivers give us strange looks."
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Soldiers appear to have misinterpreted the law when they detained Cuevas. A bricklayer by trade, he says his only connection to neighboring Haiti is that a dead grandfather was Haitian. Even under the September court ruling, people with at least one legal-resident parent would still be Dominican citizens, says Pina, the Dominican president's legal adviser. The case underscores what advocates say is a complicated, retroactive ruling that is having many unintended consequences. Being sent to Haiti, meanwhile, is to be essentially cast adrift. The country has recovered substantially from the devastating January 2010 earthquake, but it has a barely functioning economy and jobs are scarce. The World Bank says nearly 80 percent of the people live on less than $2 a day. In Jimani, an arid and somewhat seedy Dominican border town that swirls with chalky dust, there are hundreds of Haitians, many living in shacks of plywood and corrugated tin with small gardens fenced off by dried stalks of sugar cane. Soldiers seem to largely ignore the many non-legal residents in the border zone, giving it the feel of a no-man's land.
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Among the Haitians in Jimani is Marcial Luis, who says he was deported from the Dominican Republic in September when he went to a government office in Santo Domingo to help a friend fill out some paperwork and the clerk demanded his identity card and then confiscated it. Luis, who has spent half his life in the Dominican Republic, where he has a wife and five grown children, was quickly deported to Haiti. He made his way to the border region, hoping to return to Santo Domingo. "I'm a 63-year-old with man nothing, without a place to live," he said, his voice breaking with emotion. Migrant advocates say people who get sent to Haiti nearly always turn around and try to go back. Lespinasse, director of GARR, said her organization attempts to find relatives in Haiti to take them in but often they have been gone too long to have any connection to the country. Their plight is getting noticed. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have called attention to the situation as has Lespinasse's organization, which gets backing from the American Jewish World Service. The Caribbean Community has urged the Dominican Republic not to disenfranchise migrants and called an emergency meeting to discuss the issue. Lespinasse and others are working one case at a time. With Cuevas, her group will petition the government to allow him to return, but notes there are many like him and likely more to come. "They have everything there," she said of the Dominican Republic. "They have their relatives. They have their money. They have their work."
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Associated Press writer Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, contributed to this report.
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Ben Fox on Twitter: https://twitter.com/benfoxatap

In the DR, Suddenly Stateless (LA Times - 11/12/2013)

BY MARK KURLANSKY, JULIA ALVAREZ, EDWIDGE DANTICAT AND JUNOT DIAZ
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A recent ruling by the Constitutional Court in the Dominican Republic to strip away the citizenship of several generations of Dominicans leaves no doubt that the nation has not left its history of abuse and racism behind. According to the decision, Dominicans born after 1929 to parents who are not of Dominican ancestry are to have their citizenship revoked. The ruling affects an estimated 250,000 Dominican people of Haitian descent, including many who have had no personal connection with Haiti for several generations. These Dominican citizens are suddenly stateless and without rights simply because of their Haitian ancestry. Dominican animosity and racial hatred of Haitians dates back to at least 1822, when the Haitian army invaded the Dominican Republic, liberated the slaves and encouraged free blacks from the United States to settle there to make Dominicans "blacker." Feb. 27, Dominican Independence Day, does not celebrate independence from Spain but independence from Haiti in 1844. On that day a nation that banned slavery and welcomed a diverse population was founded, but the people have been arguing about that diversity ever since. In 1912, the Dominican government passed laws restricting the number of black-skinned people who could enter the country, but the sugar companies ignored the restrictions. Unscrupulous elite Dominicans looking for cheap labor for the mills brought in most of the Haitians. Those early laborers were kept in barracks lacking basic amenities and were deprived of all civil rights. It is mostly their offspring who are affected by the new ruling.
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That racism against Haitians continued. Under dictator Rafael Trujillo, an estimated 20,000 Haitians were massacred over five days in October 1937 - to "cleanse" the border, according to the government. In 1983, President Joaquin Balaguer published the book "La Isla al Reves" ("The Island in Reverse"), claiming that the Haitians were trying to invade and that their secret weapon was "biological." According to Balaguer, Haitians "multiply with a rapidity that is almost comparable to that of a vegetable species." In 1996, when Jose Francisco Pena Gomez, a popular Dominican politician with black skin and African features, ran for president, Balaguer insisted that Pena Gomez was an undercover Haitian spy with a secret plan to turn the Dominican Republic over to Haiti. One of the important lessons of the Nazi Holocaust is that the first step toward genocide is to strip a people of their right to citizenship. What will happen now to these quarter of a million people who will be stateless? Will they retreat into hiding, submit to the old conditions of near-slavery in Dominican agro-industry or desperately attempt escape on boats, as reports from Puerto Rico suggest they are already doing? The ruling will make it challenging for them just to live - to study, to work, to legally marry, to register their children, to open bank accounts - and even to leave the country that now rejects them, because they cannot obtain or renew their passports.
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To the Dominican government, this is not such a great crisis. After all, it claims, the Haitian Constitution grants Haitian citizenship to anyone anywhere in the world who has Haitian parents. Even if this were automatic, which it is not, it would be like saying that there would be nothing wrong with stripping Jews of U.S. citizenship because they have the right to Israeli citizenship. But to many Dominicans, this is a grave crisis, the reinstating of the old racism that many have fought against. To Dominican Americans, it is an absurdity. As Edward Paulino, a history professor at John Jay College in New York, said, "I, a Dominican American born and bred in the U.S., have a right to Dominican citizenship, but those born and raised in DR of Haitian parents do not." The court's action violates standards of international law and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which clearly state that people cannot be stripped of citizenship. Although the Constitutional Court cited a 2010 amendment on citizenship in its 38th Constitution in making the ruling, the decision violates Title II, Chapter 1, Article 38 of that same Constitution, which says all Dominicans are entitled to the same rights regardless of gender, religion, skin color or national origin. How should the world react? Is it such a big thing - the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of a few hundred thousand Dominicans? Should Western nations, starting with the United States, conduct business-as-usual with a country that commits such crimes against human rights? Would this be a suitable place to spend the family vacation, now that tourism has become a major Dominican economic activity?
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Isn't it time that the world tells the Dominican government that stripping people of their rights based on their ethnic background, setting up part of the citizenry for abuse and establishing an apartheid state is unacceptable? Is a nation building weapons of mass destruction or perhaps using chemical weapons on its own people the only line we will defend? Don't we also need to recognize, as we learned in Germany, the Balkans and South Africa, that we cannot accept institutionalized racism?
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ABOUT THE WRITERS
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Mark Kurlansky, Julia Alvarez, Edwidge Danticat and Junot Diaz are authors. Alvarez and Diaz are Dominican American; Danticat is Haitian American. They wrote this for the Los Angeles Times.

Ripples Of Fear After DR Citizenship Ruling (10/23/2013)

Associated Pres
BY BEN FOX AND EZEQUIEL ABIU LOPEZ
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LOS JOVILLOS, Dominican Republic -- In a house with no running water surrounded by vast stretches of sugar cane, Abelinda Yisten Debel studies for a high school graduation exam she might not be allowed to take. It's not just her diploma that's uncertain. The 19-year-old Yisten also faces the prospect of not being able to marry, get a formal job, or go to a public hospital if she gets sick. She is one of an estimated 200,000 people who were born in the Dominican Republic and now may lose their citizenship, and the rights that go along with it, because of a recent Constitutional Court decision.
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The court ruled that people who were born in the Dominican Republic to parents who were neither citizens nor legal residents are not automatically entitled to citizenship under a new constitution adopted in 2010. The effects of the decision are retroactive, and come as a particular shock to people like Yisten, who has rarely ventured beyond the dirt streets of her village and never traveled farther than the capital. "It's sad because I'm not a foreigner. I'm from here," she said at her home — two rooms in a concrete barracks-like structure, built by the government for sugar workers, where 10 families share a bathroom. Many in her central Dominican village, Los Jovillos, and across the country are waiting to learn their fate, some afraid to leave the house for fear they may be deported by immigration authorities — most likely to Haiti since most are of Haitian descent — because they have no papers. Some have lived in the Dominican Republic for generations. "If they grab me, I'll be in trouble because I don't know where I would go. I've never even been to Haiti," said Juliana Deguis Pierre, the woman whose legal challenge resulted in the Constitutional Court ruling Sept. 23.
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The court ordered the government and the Electoral Council to compile a list within two years of people who should be stripped of their Dominican birth certificate and identification card, known as a cedula, a document issued at age 18 that is required to participate in any public activity, from holding a job to casting a ballot. Now, fear and uncertainty grip many in the country of 10 million. The government has said it will come up with a path to legal residency, but no details have been released. It may not come in time to help those whose papers have already been confiscated. President Danilo Medina has expressed sympathy for those affected but not said how, or if, he will help them. The government meanwhile is under fire from human rights advocates at home and abroad for a ruling seen as racist. Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and soon-to-be chairman of the Caribbean Community, urged Medina to find a solution. "Surely, this ruling by the court is unacceptable in any civilized community," Gonsalves said in a letter to Medina. "It is an affront to all established international norms and elemental humanity, and threatens to make the Dominican Republic a pariah regionally and globally."
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Nadine Perrault, a senior regional child protection adviser for UNICEF, said she remains hopeful the government will find a way to avoid what would equate to rendering thousands of people stateless, depriving them of basic social protections. Perrault also thinks it will be extremely difficult not just to enforce the court order but to determine whose citizenship must be revoked since the ruling applies to anyone born after 1929. "This is going to be impossible to implement," she said. Already, though, many people have essentially been cut off from society. The Dominican Republic and Haiti have always been uneasy neighbors and many Dominicans resent the presence of so many Haitians in their country, still poor but better off in relative terms. For many years, the Dominican Republic granted citizenship to anyone born in its territory. But starting around the 1990s, the government began denying birth certificates and the cedula to the children of people who had entered the country without papers. In 2007, the Electoral Council official ordered the denial of citizenship documents to all children born to illegal immigrants and local officials began confiscating the papers of people who already had their documents.
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That's what happened to Yisten. When she turned 18, she went to an Electoral Council office with her birth certificate to obtain her cedula. They took her birth certificate, leaving her only with a photocopy as proof that she was born in the Dominican Republic. "I felt so bad, I almost cried," she says. With no cedula, she can't take the exam and graduate. She keeps studying, but doesn't know if she will be able to get her diploma. She and her neighbors, most in similar straits, wait to see what happens next. Some in the Dominican Republic say they should just go to Haiti, but it's not clear they will be able to obtain citizenship there and the impoverished country holds little allure. "I don't know Haiti," said Noelie Cocok, who runs a little store in Los Jovillos. "This is my country."
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Associated Press writer Ezequiel Abiu Lopez reported this story in Los Jovillos and Ben Fox reported from Miami.

UNICEF Statement on DR Court Decision (10/9/2013)

“The ruling by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic depriving Dominican-born persons of Haitian descent of their right to citizenship could have a devastating impact on thousands of children. Without a nationality, stateless children can be denied access to basic social protection programmes, cannot earn education certificates or graduate, or obtain an identity card or a passport. Without these basic protections and opportunities, these children are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
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“The decision contradicts numerous court decisions and treaties to which the Dominican Republic is party, and contravenes basic principles of human rights. A 2005 judgment by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the issue of nationality in the Dominican Republic and the recommendations made by the UN Treaty-based bodies and the Human Rights Council clearly set out that cases involving the violations of children’s rights are particularly serious. The Dominican Republic is a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (2001), which clearly articulates that in all state actions concerning children, the best interest of the child must be the primary consideration."
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“In 2008, in the concluding observations for the Dominican Republic, the Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that the constitutional right of acquiring nationality by jus solis was frequently denied to children who did not have regular birth certificates or were born to parents whose residency had not been regularized in the Dominican Republic. The Committee expressed serious concern at the large numbers of stateless children generated by this policy. The provisions of the new ruling could place these children at risk of deportation, in violation of the principles articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly articles 12 and 15. UNICEF urges the Dominican Government to adopt, with the support of the United Nations system, a procedure to protect every child’s right to acquire a nationality, in accordance with the country’s international human rights obligations. UNICEF stands ready to support the Dominican Republic authorities with the identification and implementation of procedures that would fully respect children’s rights.”
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About UNICEF: UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

Refugees International Calls on DR to Respect Int. Hum. Law

10/8/2013
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Refugees International is deeply concerned about the implications of a September 23, 2013, Dominican Constitutional Court decision that retroactively changes the rules for acquiring Dominican citizenship. This ruling applies to all individuals born in the country between 1929 and 2009 and could leave hundreds of thousands of people stateless. As RI has documented, since 2007 the Dominican government has been stripping Dominicans of Haitian descent of their Dominican identity documents without due process. If international pressure is not brought to bear on the Dominican Republic, this recent court decision could result in the mass denationalization of Dominicans of Haitian descent.
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“People born in the Dominican Republic between 1929 and 2009 grew up believing that they were Dominican citizens because citizenship was granted by virtue of being born in the country,” said RI Statelessness Program Manager Sarnata Reynolds. “Apart from the children of diplomats, the only people excluded from birthright citizenship in the Dominican Constitution were people considered to be ‘in transit.’ But the Dominican courts are now effectively stating that nearly every Dominican of Haitian descent is ‘in transit,’ even though many have lived in the country their entire lives, and in some cases, for four generations.” The Inter-American Court of Human Rights clearly rejected this definition of “in transit” in its 2005 decision in Yean & Bosico v Dominican Republic.
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“Without access to an identity card it is extremely hard to survive in the Dominican Republic,” said RI Senior Advocate Melanie Teff. “The hundreds of thousands of people affected by this judgment will lose access to public services and could even be deported to Haiti. Many Dominicans of Haitian descent have never been to Haiti and have no links there, so they will likely be unable to access Haitian citizenship and could be rendered stateless.” RI calls on the Dominican Republic to comply with the 2005 judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Yean & Bosico, and to ensure that Dominican citizens of Haitian origin are not deprived of their right to nationality.
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Refugees International (RI) advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people and promotes solutions to displacement crises. We are an independent organization, and do not accept any government or UN funding.

Haiti Strongly Disagrees with DR Court Ruling (AP - 10/5/2013)

Haiti said Saturday that it "strongly disagrees" with a court ruling in the Dominican Republic that strips citizenship from the children of Haitian migrants. The Haitian government had been mostly silent on the court decision that threatens to render hundreds of thousands of people stateless but announced this week that it was recalling its ambassador to the Dominican Republic. "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs deeply regrets that Haitians and their Dominican descendants who have contributed significantly to the current progress of the Dominican Republic for their work and sacrifice are now treated as foreigners in transit," the statement said. The Dominican Republic's Constitutional Court ruled last week that it will block citizenship for thousands of people born to Haitian migrant workers since 1929. This could affect about 300,000 people, the bulk of them Dominican-born people of Haitian descent.
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Haiti's foreign affairs ministry claimed that the court decision violates several international laws and agreements, including a 2005 decision by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. It also urged Dominican authorities to address in an "objective and fair manner" the role of Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic. The court ruling has aggravated already uneasy relations between the two countries, which share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Tensions between the neighbors worsened this summer when the Haitian government imposed a ban on Dominican chicken and eggs, citing a false report that the Dominican Republic had avian flu. Haitian officials acknowledged the error but have kept the ban in place for reasons they haven't fully explained. Dominican officials have promised to create a path to legal residency for those whose birth certificates are voided, but have provided no details on how that might work.

UNHCR Concerened About Impact of Dominican Court Decision

10/1/2013
UNHCR
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Washington, DC, October 1, 2013 (UNHCR) – The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is deeply concerned by a recent ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal of the Dominican Republic that could render as stateless countless Dominican-born persons of Haitian decent, many of whom have lived in the Dominican Republic for decades. Due to its retroactive effect, this ruling has the potential to affect tens of thousands of people born in the Dominican Republic. The case concerned a Dominican-born woman and mother of four children, Ms. Juliana Dequis Pierre, whose Haitian migrants parents moved to the DR decades ago. The Tribunal concluded that Ms. Dequis Pierre, who is 29 years old and was officially registered as a Dominican citizen at birth, did not in fact meet the criteria for the acquisition of the Dominican nationality. Most worrying is that the Tribunal requested Dominican authorities to identify similar cases of Dominicans of Haitian descent formally registered as Dominicans as far back as 1929 who would not have qualified as citizens under the Tribunal's criteria. Should this process indeed be carried out without the necessary safeguards, three generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent could become stateless. "It's difficult to imagine the devastating effect of being told that you are no longer a citizen of the country where you were born and lived your entire life," said Gonzalo Vargas Llosa, UNHCR's Chief of Mission in Santo Domingo.
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The ruling runs contrary to a 2005 judgment by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the issue of nationality in the Dominican Republic. It is also at odds with positions and recommendations made by the United Nations system in the Dominican Republic, UNHCR, the UN Human Rights Council, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and civil society groups. "I am very concerned by the potential adverse impact of this ruling, which puts Ms. Dequis Pierre, her four children, and many others at serious risk of having no recognized nationality" said Shelly Pitterman, UNHCR's Regional Representative for the U.S. and Caribbean. "It's a basic principle of international law that no one should be deprived of a nationality if that action leads to statelessness."
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By virtue of being stateless, a person can be denied many of the rights and privileges taken for granted as a national of a country, including the right to vote, the right to travel outside of one's country and even the right to access basic services. The United Nations agencies in the Dominican Republic, including UNHCR, are prepared to assist the Government of the Dominican Republic in preventing a situation of statelessness and ensuring that the basic human rights of persons like Ms. Dequis Pierre are guaranteed.

UN Urges DR to Ensure Citizensip for Citizens of Haitian Origin

10/1/2013
UN News Service
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The United Nations human rights office today urged the Government of the Dominican Republic to take all necessary measures to ensure that citizens of Haitian origin are not deprived of their right to nationality in light of a recent court ruling. Last week the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the children of undocumented migrants who have been in the Dominican Republic and registered as Dominicans as far back as 1929, cannot have Dominican nationality as their parents are considered to be “in transit.” “We are extremely concerned that a ruling of the Dominican Republic Constitutional Court may deprive tens of thousands of people of nationality, virtually all of them of Haitian descent, and have a very negative impact on their other rights,” Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), told reporters in Geneva.
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She said the decision could have “disastrous” implications for people of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic, leaving such individuals in a state of constitutional limbo and potentially leaving tens of thousands of them stateless and without access to basic services for which identity documents are required. Until 2010, the Dominican Republic had followed the principle of automatically bestowing citizenship to anyone born on its soil. But in 2010, a new constitution stated that citizenship would be granted only to those born on Dominican soil to at least one parent of Dominican blood or whose foreign parents are legal residents. The decision, which cannot be appealed, gives the Central Electoral Board one year to elaborate a list of people to be excluded from citizenship, and it outlines a number of steps leading to the elaboration of a regularization plan for undocumented migrants. “We urge the Dominican Government to take all necessary measures to ensure that Dominican citizens of Haitian origin are not deprived of their right to nationality in accordance with the country’s international human rights obligations,” said Ms. Shamdasani.

Thought You Were a Citizen? DR Changes the Rules (10/1/2013)

Christian Science Monitor
By Ezra Fieser
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A youth of Haitian descent holds a sign saying, 'I'm Dominican' during a protest demanding that President Danilo Medina stop the process to invalidate their birth certificates after authorities retained their ID cards, in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Aug. 12. The Dominican Republic's top court on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013 stripped citizenship from thousands of people born to migrants who came illegally, a category that overwhelmingly includes Haitians brought in to work on farms. The decision cannot be appealed, and it affects all those born since 1929.
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For five years, Altagracia Jean Joseph has fought for the Dominican government to recognize her as a citizen. Born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents, she was 23 when she first asked for a copy of her birth certificate, a document needed here to do everything from marry to attend university. Even though Ms. Jean Joseph was previously registered as a citizen and her father was in the country legally when she was born, the civil registrar refused to provide the document because they assumed she was Haitian, she said. “All of the sudden one day they told me I wasn’t Dominican because I had a strange last name,” says Jean Joseph. She eventually convinced the civil registry to give her a copy of her birth certificate, only to watch her three siblings later struggle through the same situation. “This is our lives they are affecting,” says Jean Joseph. She may have been legally registered here at birth, but many government institutions and employers require a recently certified copy of a birth certificate to apply for basic services. Now, her future is again in question. Last week the Dominican Republic’s top court ruled that children of immigrants – like Jean Joseph – do not qualify for citizenship even if they were born here.
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In a ruling that shocked both national and international observers, the Dominican Constitutional Court ordered authorities to review the civil registry dating back to 1929, potentially stripping citizenship from hundreds of thousands of people, and creating a massive population of stateless people. "This would qualify as one of the largest populations of functionally stateless people in the world,” says Liliana Gamboa, a Santo Domingo-based representative for the Open Society Justice Initiative. "We’re talking about potentially four generations of people who always believed they were Dominican being now told they are not." It is a blow to generations of people born and raised here who have lived their lives as Dominicans. They are now left to ponder a life without citizenship or pursuing the arduous task of applying for citizenship in Haiti, a country many of them do not know. Rights groups say they will challenge the Dominican government in international courts. Meanwhile, observers wonder how the broad ruling will affect relations between two countries that share an island but often find themselves at odds with each other. “This is a violation of the human rights of thousands of people,” says Joseph Cherubin, who migrated from Haiti to the Dominican Republic and founded MOSCTHA, a non-profit organization that advocates for Haitians and their families here. “This is state-sponsored xenophobia coming from a government that says anti-Haitianism does not exist in the country,” Mr. Cherubin says.
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The United Nations Refugee Agency said it would look into the ruling, while the Haitian government recalled its ambassador, Fritz Cineas, for consultations. For decades, Haitians have traveled to the Dominican Republic to work in sugar fields and banana plantations and, more recently, in the booming construction sector. Hundreds of thousands of families have settled. The government used to grant citizenship to all children born in the country, with the exception of people “in transit,” a group that included little more than foreign diplomats posted here. But in 2004, a new migration law expanded that category to include non-residents, such as undocumented Haitians. Migration authorities then began to refuse to supply certified copies of birth certificates to the children of Haitians. In 2010, the government installed a new constitution that formalized the distinction.
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Since, children of Haitians ­have regularly demonstrated, rallying for recognition from the only country many of them have ever known. Haitians make up the largest immigrant group in the Dominican Republic, with an estimated 458,223 residing here, according to an immigrant census released earlier this year. Members of a dozen other civil society groups said in a statement they will continue protesting “until the rights violated by this sentence are reinstated." Government officials said that those affected by the ruling would be able to apply for residency and eventually naturalize. “The ruling unifies the country, clarifies and defines … a legal framework for a humanitarian way out for those people,” says Roberto Rosario, president of the Central Electoral Board, which oversees the civil registry. Human rights groups are doubtful the process will be easy or swift. Without proper documentation, people living here are likely to be subject to deportation and a lack of basic services, including health care.
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Wade H. McMullen, Jr., staff attorney at the Washington-based Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, says groups will move quickly to request protective status for at-risk individuals from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Inter-American Court on Human Rights previously ruled that Haitians living here, regardless of documentation, should not be considered “in transit” and that their children are entitled to birthright citizenship. Mr. McMullen says last week’s ruling was a shock to those who have worked on the issue. “No one predicted that the court would reach so broadly with the decision, ordering a review of thousands of records back to 1929,” he says. A government survey released earlier this year estimated 244,151 children of immigrants are living in the Dominican Republic, the vast majority of whom are descendants of Haitians. The number affected by the ruling is likely larger, however, as it will touch several generations, observers said. The ruling comes amid a deteriorating relationship between the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Relations seemed bound for better days after a 2010 earthquake destroyed parts of Haiti and drew the sympathy and support of Dominicans. But recently there's been a trade row over chicken and egg exports to Haiti.
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Late last week, the US Department of Labor issued a scathing evaluation of the Dominican sugar cane industry, finding appalling conditions for workers, who are mostly Haitian. The report, which came in response to a complaint brought under a trade pact between the countries, also found that the government failed to uphold its labor laws. The Haitian government had long steered clear of commenting on the citizenship controversy, save for a vague mention of the issue by President Michel Martelly during a state visit last year. The Haitian foreign ministry said Monday it was “very concerned by the decision,” but many are doubtful the ruling will become the basis for a larger spat. “Unfortunately the government of Haiti has in recent years taken a rather equivocal and ineffective line [in terms of being] an advocate for the rights of the Haitian-ancestry minority,” says Samuel Martinez, a University of Connecticut professor and anthropologist who studies Haitian migrants in the Dominican Republic. “So I doubt that this measure will add much if any lasting tension. … In the long run they will shrug this off.”
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That leaves hundreds of thousands of people like Jean Joseph with a stark choice: Return to Haiti and apply for citizenship or live as part of a permanent underclass in the Dominican Republic. “I’m not Haitian. I’m Dominican,” says Jean Joseph, who visited Haiti once, after the 2010 earthquake to help in the humanitarian response, and speaks only limited Haitian creole. “I’m not about to give up a single right, not one,” she says. “I’d prefer to die than to live as a foreigner in the country where I was born.”

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