It has been more than a year since Resolution TC 0168/13 was passed by the highest court in the Dominican Republic. This decision took away the citizenship of up to 250,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent. Since this ruling, the Dominican government’s legislative, executive, and judicial branches have used many ways to avoid legal responsibility for their actions, violating the Dominican Republic’s Constitution and international human rights treaties to which the country is a party. The sad truth is that the Dominican government has been building a system of legal apartheid for Dominicans born to Haitian parents for the past 10 years. These second and third-generation Dominicans have always had trouble being fully recognized as Dominican citizens. However, their government seems determined to make this discrimination legal, and they are getting closer and closer to their goal.
Apartheid is best known as the system that separated people of different races in South Africa in the 20th century. The United Nations defines it as “inhuman acts done by one racial group of people over any other racial group of people to establish and keep control over them and to systematically oppress them.” “Legislative measures that are biased in the political, social, economic, and cultural fields” are some of these acts.
The United Nations defines racial discrimination as “any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, color, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment, or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, or any other field.”
In the Dominican Republic, people have been mean to the Dominican children of Haitian immigrants for a long time. This kind of prejudice fits the UN’s definition of racial discrimination. Recent legal moves by the Dominican government suggest they want to move toward a legally segregated society called an “apartheid state.”
Until 2010, the Dominican Constitution said that all children born in the country, with a few exceptions, were automatically citizens. One of these exceptions is that children born to “foreigners in transit” are not Dominican by birth. “In transit” was used in the Constitution to talk about the children of people who were only in the country temporarily for up to 10 days.
In 2004, lawmakers changed the definition of “in transit” from 10 days to a broader definition that includes anyone born to two undocumented migrants, no matter how long they have lived in the country. This was the first step toward giving Dominicans of Haitian descent their own laws. Since then, the Dominican government has taken small steps to make it harder for Dominicans of Haitian descent to live as recognized citizens. These steps culminated in TC 0168/13, which effectively stripped the citizenship of multiple generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent.
Dominicans of Haitian descent are a group that the government has chosen not to keep records on. This is not a problem with immigration or with the government. The government is to blame for this problem. Many Dominicans born to Haitian parents do not have national ID cards or birth certificates because local and federal authorities have repeatedly turned them down. The situation is made worse because many people with Haitian roots live in rural agricultural areas, where they are more likely to be maltreated and cut off from government services.
The Dominican government has been able to confuse the issue and hide the fact that most people of Haitian descent are Dominican citizens, not foreigners. The idea that having Haitian ancestry is inherently foreign and incompatible with Dominican identity is so deeply rooted that sympathetic Dominicans and Dominican Americans sometimes call this group of people “Haitians” instead of “fellow Dominicans.” There is evidence that government institutions routinely deny this community access to state-issued documents for arbitrary reasons, like having the last name that sounds Haitian or having natural hair if you’re a woman.
Since 2004, the actions of the Dominican government have been making a permanent underclass of people who don’t have citizenship and have very few rights. The court decision TC 0168/13 was a loss for Dominican lawyers who had been fighting against this kind of racial discrimination for a long time in court. It’s hard to believe that justice will be done through the country’s systems. Civil society groups in the Dominican Republic have been fighting for years, and the law keeps getting worse.
In the year since TC 0168/13, no international group has agreed with or backed the way the Dominican government explains the law regarding the citizenship rights of Dominicans born to Haitian parents. Also, the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Caribbean Forum, PetroCaribe, many human rights groups, over 20 national Latino organizations in the U.S., the U.S. National Bar Association, and well-known writers, activists, and academics have spoken out against this discrimination and the troubling example it sets.