Primer on Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

On September 23rd, 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court retroactively stripped the citizenship of Dominicans born to people residing in the Dominican Republic without legal status between 1929 and 2010. The ruling primarily affected Dominicans whose parents—or even grandparents—migrated decades ago from neighboring Haiti to join an oppressed working class long derided and rejected by Dominican society because of their origin, their poverty and the color of their skin.

As a result of this ruling, as many as 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent have been rendered “stateless,” not considered nationals of any country in the world. In 2014, the government took steps to provide pathways to restore citizenship to some; but the gesture provided more bureaucratic red tape than solutions, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights decried these moves as insufficient, calling the statelessness situation “of a magnitude never before seen in the Americas.”

Countless Dominicans of Haitian descent now live in fear of deportation and harassment by Dominican neighbors. Some have experienced violence, as well as expulsions and arbitrary detentions by Dominican armed forces, national police and immigration authorities. In 2015, when a Haitian man was lynched, many speculated that the crime was related to the citizenship ruling. People are afraid to leave the urban slums (barrios) and plantations (bateyes) they call home, which has cut off this vulnerable population from its already limited access to schools, clinics, employment, marriage and other public services.

Meanwhile, the ruling—and a simultaneous new emphasis on deportations for Haitian migrants—has also sparked fear among Haitians working temporarily in the country. More than 135,000 people fled across the border, and because the Haitian government took no measures to accommodate the influx of returnees, several thousand have languished in disease-ridden makeshift tent camps described by some as “no man’s land.”

Activists say this crisis is just the latest chapter of a long history of discrimination and inequality.