Imagine if the United States passed a new bill that denied citizenship to everyone whose ancestors migrated to the United States anytime after 1929. If that was you, that means you would no longer have access to a birth certificate or passport nor could you enroll in universities or qualify for health insurance. Many, if not the majority of us, would be stuck in limbo — a disoriented state of statelessness.
This is what Dominicans of Haitian descent are experiencing in the Dominican Republic today.
Dominicans and Haitians share the beautiful island of “Hispaniola” but have always marginalized themselves from each other due to the Dominican Republic’s dark history of racial prejudice against Haitians. An ongoing conflict for centuries, hate crimes against Haitians in the Dominican Republic are still extremely common and ignored today. The Dominican government has failed to address the growing racism throughout the years as Haitians are seen as lower class citizens in most parts of the Dominican Republic and are often dehumanized.
In August 2004, the Dominican Republic did away with their former birthright citizenship law and applied a new law that stripped citizenship from children of Haitian immigrants. In 2010, the immigration law was incorporated to the countries’ new constitution. Most recently on September 26, 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court pronounced that all citizens of Haitian decent will be moved to a separate list of citizens. The government will then examine the documentation (documentation that was acceptable in the past is now being deemed inadequate by the country) of your ancestors and decide whether you can remain a citizen based on their finding.
The Dominicans affected by this law have become stateless; they’ve been denied Dominican citizenship and are unable to receive Haitian citizenship in exchange. These people are left confused and without identity. A U.N.-backed study released this year estimated that there are nearly 210,000 first generation, Dominican-born people of Haitian descent. The latest ruling will leave as many as 200,000 people stateless, according to the Open Society Foundation.
When speaking about the issue, I can’t help but think about myself, because somewhere in my family lineage between 1929 and the present, I have a Haitian ancestor; I know this because my father is partially Haitian. I was born in the Dominican Republic and lived there on and off until the age of 8. Then, I moved to the United States with my mother and became an American citizen. I am a Dominican with Haitian ancestry, but I have never been to Haiti nor have I met a family member of mine that would consider themselves Haitian. I was raised in a Dominican household, by a family that identified themselves as Dominicans and were just as Dominican as any other family in the Dominican Republic.
There are a lot of people that have similar stories to mine who are now being denied a part of their identity.
Dominicans of Haitian descent are being denied the right to an education, obtaining employment, housing, and even health care. The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic labeled those effected “in transit,” which brings me to question where they are in transit to? The government has yet to address these questions and say that they will provide a way to apply for citizenship to the Dominicans that have been rendered stateless; in addition, they do not provide any real answers.
On Thursday, November 28th, protesters met in Times Square to voice their concern on the Constitutional Courts ruling. Many powerful Latin leaders joined forces and signed a letter to the current President of the Dominican Republic, Danilo Medina Sanchez, pleading with him to block the court’s ruling. Dominican political activist groups are reaching out to Haitian political activist groups and standing hand in hand during this time of oppression and this is precisely the type of unity that we need to move forward.
After all, most immigrants experience some sort of prejudice after migration, and for that, we should stick together; as emphasized by Estela Vazquez, a Dominican immigrant and executive vice president of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union: “We’ve seen what happens when you leave your country as an immigrant to another place and there have been obstacles and discrimination,” she told the New York Times. “I think as Dominicans in the diaspora, we have a special responsibility to denounce what has happened in the Dominican Republic.”
We are at the precipice of a turning point in the island’s history: This is about more than just a piece of paper stating where you were born. This is about having a home, having an identity, a part of who we are.
It’s about time that Dominicans and Haitians live in harmony and accept each other as equally important to each other’s history. It’s about time we realize once and for all that we are brothers and sisters of the same blood — and no legislation can hide or alter this truth. We have to embrace this reality, for the future of our island, our legacy depends on it.