In September 2013, the highest court in the Dominican Republic issued an immigration ruling that sparked outrage throughout the international community. The court ruled that any person who was born in the Dominican Republic to parents who were illegal immigrants would not be considered a legal resident of the Dominican Republic. The ruling could eventually lead to deportation of thousands of Haitians and will impact access to health care, education, and employment. Furthermore, this is not without interest to Americans who are concerned with immigration policy abroad or here in our own country.
One of the most striking aspects of the high court’s ruling is that it applies retroactively to anyone born to undocumented immigrants since 1929. The high court’s ruling orders authorities to strip citizenship from children of illegal immigrants dating back to 1929, even if they previously held Dominican documents and were born in the country. Although Haitians are not the only group that are impacted, they constitute a disproportionate number of those who have now become stateless. Critics argue that approximately 250,000 Haitians have been impacted. Many of these Haitians are children who have known no other home but the Dominican Republic, who speak Spanish and not Creole, and who may have never set foot in Haiti. Others may have been born in Haiti to parents who migrated in the early half of the 20th century to work in the sugar industry. As Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, migrating to the Dominican Republic for hard, unregulated labor was an attractive option. Dominicans also exploited the immigration status of Haitian migrants, keeping the wages of the workers depressed and exploiting the fact that their working conditions were largely not regulated.
In response to the international community’s outcry against this ruling, the Dominican Republic’s president, Danilo Medina, promised that no one would be deported while the country develops and implements its plan for regularizing these stateless residents of the Dominican Republic. The regularization plan, which is currently being developed, will grant qualified individuals residency and allow them to eventually apply for naturalization. The government’s plan also includes assisting undocumented individuals obtain proper paperwork and get their documentation in order.
While the regularization plan sounds promising, Haitians face tremendous hurdles in participating in this program. Many do not have paperwork from Haiti, and do not have the means to pay to obtain new paperwork. While the Haitian government is expected to set up offices in the Dominican Republic to assist Haitians to obtain paperwork, it is expected that the cost of obtaining documentation from the Haitian government, as well as from the Dominican Republic government, will be prohibitively expensive.
As the Dominican Republic’s government develops details on how it will implement its regularization plan, it ought to consider what it needs to do to make the plan effective and accessible. A plan that sounds good to the outside international community but is ineffective in its implementation will fail. If the plan proves ineffective, leaving thousands of Haitians stateless and in legal limbo due to impossible requirements or prohibitive fees, the international community must make the Dominican government, and not Haitians, responsible. Anything less would be a human rights travesty.