The Dominican Ruling which could Leave Thousands Stateless
“My father came here to work, with an employment contract, and was given a small farm, where I was born,” recalls 22-year-old Wendy Benoit Yan speaking with a Dominican accent.
“I have all my documents in order, like my birth certificate. But when I asked for a [Dominican] ID, it was denied because I am the son of Haitian immigrants,” he says.
Mr Benoit Yan was born in Bayaguana, in the Dominican Republic, and his story is typical of the children born to undocumented Haitians living in the Dominican Republic.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola, in the Caribbean. Since the start of the 20th Century hundreds of thousands of Haitians have crossed into the neighbouring country, hoping to escape the rampant poverty of their homeland to work on Dominican sugar cane plantations.
According to official figures released last May, there are at least 450,000 Haitian immigrants living in the Dominican Republic, most of them without resident permits.
One of them is Juliana Deguis, 29. A Dominican-born daughter of Haitian immigrants, she was refused a Dominican identity card and took her case to the country’s constitutional court.
But the ruling did not go in her favour.
The justices argued that “when foreigners are in an irregular migration situation they cannot invoke the right of nationality for their children, as it is inadmissible to ask for the right of birth when based on an illegal circumstance”.
The judicial decision has left the children of Haitian migrants in legal limbo.
“If I get deported I will have to adapt. But I hope that does not happen because I feel entirely Dominican”
Wendy Benoit Yan Son of Haitian immigrants to the Dominican Republic
Up until three years ago, the situation was clear-cut. Those born on Dominican soil were considered to have the right to citizenship, the only exception being the children of diplomats or those considered to be “in transit”.
But a 2010 constitutional reform scrapped that right.
And last month’s constitutional court decision has further tightened the rules saying that the children of undocumented immigrants who have been living in the Dominican Republic from as far back as 1929, cannot have Dominican nationality.
The ruling argues that their parents were migrant workers and therefore only “in transit”, excluding them from automatically becoming Dominican citizens.
It is a decision that has caused concern both in the Dominican Republic and abroad.
The United Nations human rights office warned Dominican authorities of the dangers of implementing the new ruling.
“We are extremely concerned that a ruling of the Dominican Republic Constitutional Court may deprive tens of thousands of people of nationality, virtually all of them of Haitian descent, and have a very negative impact on their other rights,” a statement by the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said.
The Dominican non-governmental organisation Menamird, which works closely with Haitian migrants, called the ruling “full of hate and xenophobic resentment”.
One of its directors, William Charpantier, told the BBC that “in the Dominican Republic there is a longstanding discrimination against Haitians”.
He warned that the ruling could “leave thousands stateless” as the descendants of Haitian immigrants often do not have Haitian papers either.
Haitian authorities have also expressed their anger at the court’s decision and recalled their ambassador in response to the Dominican ruling, but so far to little avail.
The Dominican government told the BBC it would not “interfere” with the judicial ruling.
Mr Charpantier said the decision left immigrants’ children in an unbearable situation, not being able to access basic services for which IDs are needed, and even fearing deportation to a country they have few ties to.
Mr Benoit Yan is one of those who has never set foot into Haiti.
He says he can understand a little bit of his parents’ language, having grown up among Haitian immigrants working on Dominican sugar cane plantations, but insists he cannot really speak Creole.
“If I get deported I will have to adapt. But I hope that does not happen because I feel entirely Dominican,” he says.
For the time being, all he can do is put his hopes in Ms Deguis who, not happy with the ruling of the Dominican constitutional court, has promised to take her case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the hope of a more favourable outcome.