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Ni de aquí ni de allá: Denationalization and Mass Deportation between the United States and the Dominican Republic

In recent years, governments across the globe have instituted immigration policies that challenge or dissolve the legal status of immigrants already living within their borders. From the denationalization of Dominicans of Haitian descent in the D.R., to the challenges to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Temporary Protected Status in the U.S., to Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent deportation threats against the Windrush generation of Black Caribbean immigrants who helped rebuild Britain after World War II, anti-immigrant sentiments are driving public policy in many parts of the world. Implicit within the majority of these cases is a challenge to the rights of Black immigrants and their children living at the intersection of racist, white supremacist and capitalist regimes.

While plenty of analysis exists about refusals to allow refugees and immigrants to reach safe shores, our analysis focuses specifically on the stripping of nationality and citizenship rights of populations formally recognized as citizens. We suggest that the particular case of denationalization of Dominicans of Haitian Descent (DOHD) in the Dominican Republic has served as a blueprint for other nations who seek to strip populations they have identified as undesirable of legal recognition. Understanding the intricacies of this process can enable us to predict how nativist elements within state governments may act in the future in order to expel Black immigrants and their descendants. We suggest that a closer look at the disenfranchisement of Haitian migrants and their children in the Dominican Republic provides some insight and forewarning to the detrimental effects of such policies if they were to be fully enforced and implemented in other nations of the Western Hemisphere. These policies seem to follow a pattern: 1) A multi-generational targeting that strips both previous and future generations from the right to residency; 2) A redefinition of citizenship and nationality; and 3) The validation of a rhetoric that naturalizes the concepts of “citizenship,” “law” and the “nation” despite their flaws and harmful applications.

Over the span of a decade, the Dominican government implemented a series of policies which sought the erasure of Black Haitian migrants and their children from the nation. In 2004, the Dominican government enacted a new Migration Law, which expanded the category of “foreigners in transit” to include non-residents, such as undocumented Haitian migrants, no matter how long they had been living in the country. Haitian migrants who had lived in the country for decades were now given the same category as tourists. Based on this new law, government officials at the Dominican Central Electoral Council (JCE), began to refuse to supply certified copies of birth certificates to the Dominican-born children of Haitians immigrants. These legal changes were then applied retroactively, in 2013, through the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling 168-13, which stripped away citizenship from more than four generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent.

Without birthright citizenship, these insidious changes created a category of stateless individuals who could not pass on Dominican citizenship to future generations. These legal actions constitute forms of bureaucratic ethnic cleansing that create legally-sanctioned, tiered systems of citizenship (in addition to informal forms of second-class citizenship). As a result, any benefits of citizenship will be apportioned differently to full citizens, permanent residents and undocumented immigrants and denationalized, stateless persons who do not have access to the citizenship of their parents, grandparents or great-grandparent’s country of origin.

Recent examples of denationalization point to the demise of the concept of “birthright citizenship” in the Americas.[1] The idea that people are connected to the nation due to their birth on its soil is under threat, and these threats point towards a return of nativist, white supremacist forms of adjudicating citizenship. In the Americas, there’s a tradition of birthright citizenship that differs drastically from ‘jus sanguinis’ citizenship (citizenship based on blood lineage) that is practiced in the rest of the world. By claiming that being born in the nation is not sufficient evidence for nationality, states are redefining the concept by erasing bodies deemed undesirable and re-inscribing those with continuous, territory-based claims of belonging. Historically, such bodies have been white, heteronormative, cis-gender and male.

Finally, these cases of denationalization create contexts that reinforce the idea of the “nation” “border” and “law.” These entities claim a false level of concreteness through bureaucratic proceedings and create opportunities for states to establish their presence through exceptional uses of force (both legal and physical). As we move to futures that are transnational and border-fluid, these recent cases of denationalization force individuals to depend on or rely on the state in ways that re-inscribe its authority. Changes to the ways nations in the Western Hemisphere adjudicate citizenship rights are rapidly shifting with the rise of nativist, exclusionist and isolationist rhetoric across the globe. It’s our duty and responsibility to be informed of these transformations and vigilant of the systematic, bureaucracy-based transformations that harm the livelihood of vulnerable populations across the region.

Supplement: The Making of TC 168-13, the Denationalization Ruling

(Timeline by We Are All Dominican)

  1. For decades, Haitians have settled in the Dominican Republic to work in sugarcane fields and banana plantations and, more recently, in the booming construction sector.
  2. The Dominican government used to grant citizenship to all children born in the country, known as jus soli or birthright citizenship, with the exception of children born to foreign diplomats and foreigners “in transit,” such as people who were in Dominican territory on their way to another country. The 1939 Migration Law limited the period of that someone could be “in transit” to a maximum of 10 days.
  3. In 2004, a new Migration Law expanded the category of “foreigners in transit” to include non-residents, such as undocumented Haitian migrants no matter how long they had been living in the country. Migration authorities and the Dominican Central Electoral Council (JCE) then begin to refuse to supply certified copies of birth certificates to the Dominican-born children of Haitians immigrants.
  4. In 2005, the Dominican Republic was condemned by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case Yean and Bosico for denying birth certificates to two young Dominican girls of Haitian descent, in violation of its own Constitution and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a landmark decision in October 2005, affirming the human right to nationality as the prerequisite to the equal enjoyment of all rights as civic members of a state.
  5. In 2007, The Dominican Central Electoral Council (JCE) officially instructed its employees to deny citizenship documents to all children born to “illegal” immigrants, through Resolution 12.
  6. In 2010, a constitutional reform eliminated birthright citizenship in the Dominican Republic, denying for the first time the nationality of children born in the country to undocumented immigrant parents. However, the Constitution of 2010 itself recognizes in Art. 18.2 the nationality of people who were already considered Dominican nationals prior to 2010. In other words, the Constitutional change applies only to those born after
  7. On September 23, 2013, Dominican Constitutional Court, through Resolution TC 0168/13 retroactively denied Dominican nationality to anyone born after 1929 who does not have at least one parent of Dominican blood, under the argument that undocumented immigrants are considered “in transit.”
  8. In its decision, TC/0168/13, the Dominican Constitutional Court ordered meticulous reviews of the civil registry back to 1929. The Dominican electoral authorities have refused to issue identity documents to 40,000 people of Haitian descent.
  9. Overall 210,000 people of Haitian descent born in Dominican territory are said to be at risk of denationalization, according to a survey of immigrants in the Dominican Republic conducted in 2012.

We Are All Dominican Collective is a group of university students and young community members who have joined forces with scholars, educators and community activists in NYC to denounce the Dominican Constitutional Court’s decision to strip tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands, of Dominicans of Haitian descent of their nationality, violating fundamental human rights. WAAD organizes panel discussions, community art workshops, protests, vigils, and street outreach to raise awareness on the human rights violations that more than four generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent face as their right to a Dominican nationality is stripped away and denied by the Dominican government.

[1] The challenge to birthright citizenship in the Western Hemisphere is traced out in Peter H. Schuck and Roger Smith’s 1985 book Citizenship Without Consent: Illegal Aliens in the American Polity and Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez’s 2012 essay “Born in the Americas: Birthright Citizenship and Human Rights” in Harvard Human Rights Journal.