Stateless in Santo Domingo

The Politics of Citizenship in the Dominican Republic

Haitians stand outside the Ministry of Interior and Police while waiting to register in the so-called "regularization" program in Santo Domingo, June 17, 2015. Ricardo Rojas / Reuters

In 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal decided to revoke the citizenship of Haitians who were born in the country but could not produce satisfactory documentation of their birth and residency under the new law. Soon thereafter, the government launched a campaign to naturalize those of Haitian descent who could provide documentation and deport those who couldn’t. When the program ended this past June, an unknown number of people (with conservative estimates stating at least 9,000) were left in a stateless limbo. To take care of the backlog, the Dominican government recently announced that it would extend its efforts into August, but President Danilo Medina is already moving forward with the deportation of those in question. In turn, there has been an international outcry over the court’s decision and the ensuing policies, which will remand many deportees to a country where they have never lived and do not speak the language. In tapping long-standing prejudices and pushing forward with a program that  has run afoul of international law, the Medina government runs the risk of becoming a pariah state and weakening its all-important sugar and tourism industries.


This story begins in 2008, when Juliana Deguis Pierre traveled to a local electoral office to request a voter identification card with her Dominican birth certificate in hand. Rather than issue her a voter ID, the local commission seized Deguis’s birth certificate because of her two Haitian last names. Five years later, the nation’s highest court—the Constitutional Tribunal—ruled that the electoral commission’s confiscation of Deguis’s birth certificate had been justified because she was born to two undocumented Haitian immigrants and, therefore, was incorrectly registered as a Dominican citizen at birth. The court based its ruling on a constitutional provision that excludes from Dominican citizenship children born to foreigners who were simply “in transit” through the Dominican Republic, an interpretation that had been in place since 1929. Instead, the court extended the term “in transit” to include undocumented immigrants on

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