Statelessness in the Dominican Republic and Why it Matters

Story by  Daniella Emami | emami.d@husky.neu.edu

In late 2013, the highest court of the Dominican Republic declared that children of undocumented Haitian immigrants were no longer entitled to their citizenship, regardless of if they had been born in the country or how long their families had lived there. Authorities were instructed to look into the birth records of every person in the D.R. dating back to 1929, and deem the birth certificates of anyone with undocumented Haitian roots invalid. Thousands upon thousands of Dominican-born individuals were thus thrown into a stateless limbo, being regarded as neither Dominican or Haitian. And it doesn’t end there– because Haitians and individuals who are even believed to be Haitian are often denied basic legal documents in the D.R., families who had been in the country for generations were suddenly being told to leave all because of missing or nonexistent documents.

While the battle for citizenship still forges on, with thousands of individuals still unrecognized by either country, this conflict was in the making for quite some time. The revoking of citizenships and deportation of innocent people was the result of deep, systemized prejudice and racism between the two island-sharing countries. Although people born on Dominican soil were legally considered Dominican for years, they have always suffered extreme discrimination and marginalization, and have been denied even the simplest of rights and opportunities for generations.

Haitian immigrants are often exploited for cheap or free labor in the D.R, and maliciously used as political tools for the country’s elite. In the past few decades, Dominican politicians have achieved tremendous political success by blaming Haitians for the country’s financial struggles, including lack of jobs, high crime rates and lack of access to “universal” public resources such as education and infrastructure, just to name a few.

The attitudes and perceptions of the “other” in the Dominican Republic are nothing new, as they have been seen time and time again in every corner of the world. This trend of blaming the “other” can be seen all around the globe today– from new immigration sanctions being passed throughout the European Union in the midst of a migrant crisis, to stable African states denying refugees from their struggling neighbors, to Arizona’s infamous “show me your papers” law, epitomizing racial profiling in the United States by allowing police officers to ask for registration documents from anyone who “appeared” to be an illegal alien.

What is especially notable in the D.R.’s case, however, is the action the country has taken to permanently purge itself of the “other.” Hateful attitudes become discriminatory actions much faster than we think, which is why what’s happening in the D.R. and so many other countries around the world applies to our community here in the U.S. and at Northeastern.

There are an estimated 10 million stateless people in the world, and we must all do something to help bring this number down. We can take action by showing the world that we accept others regardless of their passport, or lack thereof, and by understanding that we are lucky to belong to a country. We can give to causes which aid the stateless in refugee camps, stay current in global news concerning these millions of innocent people and practice empathy and understanding each and every day.

If you want to learn more about ending statelessness, visit the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees’ page: http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c155.html

And if you want to learn more about the history of the Dominican/Haitian conflict, visit: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2015/06/16/the-bloody-origins-of-the-dominican-republics-ethnic-cleansing-of-haitians/