Canada has long had positive relations with the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the two countries that share the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, and millions of Canadians visit Hispaniola each year. While seldom in the news until recently, the DR has found its way into many news reports and political statements about the plight of Dominicans of Haitian origin. In what follows, the authors of this article, who have lived for different periods in the DR, try to re-establish the facts and assess prospects for the future.
It all began in 2013 with the verdict in the DR's highest court against Juliana Dequis Fierre.
Juliana Dequis Pierre was born in 1984 in the batey of Los Jovillos in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents who had settled in the DR in the 1970s. In 2008, she applied for a Cedula, the DR's ID card, and was refused. An initial appeal in court was rejected on the technical grounds that she had supplied a photocopy of her birth certificate. She then appealed to the highest judicial body in the country, the Constitutional Court, and the repercussions of that appeal resonate to this day.
On September 23, 2013, the Constitutional Court again decided against Juliana Dequis Pierre, but its decision- "La Sentencia"--went much further. (1) The ruling covered the children of all undocumented persons living in the DR born since the 1929 Constitution was adopted, affecting an estimated 210,000 people born in the DR. Almost all of these people are from families of Haitian origin. The current Dominican Constitution recognizes as citizens all persons born on national territory, except children "of foreign members of diplomatic or consular legations, of aliens in transit or residing illegally on Dominican territory." (2) The Court ruled that the category of children of "aliens in transit or residing illegally on Dominican territory" applied to children of undocumented persons living in the DR.
The decision was swiftly denounced internationally for rendering longtime residents "stateless." (Use of this term is technically inaccurate, since children of Haitian parents retain their Haitian nationality.) Unquestionably, it posed a serious political as well as administrative problem for Dominican President Danilo Medina. Faced from all sides by condemnations of this human rights tragedy and demands to stop the impending deportations, but constitutionally prevented from appealing the verdict, Medina met with a group of those affected by the ruling to plan the government's response.
In November 2013, he issued a presidential decree launching the National Regularization Plan (PRNE), which was executed over the course of 18 months and expired on June 17, 2015. Under the PRNE, anyone who was settled in the Dominican Republic before October 2011 was eligible to obtain a migratory visa confirming their legal status in the country, and eventually citizenship. The path to citizenship was elaborated in a new law, passed in May 2014. It first opened the door to DR citizenship for the 24,000 who had been inscribed in the civil registry and issued birth certificates before La Sentencia. The estimated remaining 186,000 born in the DR but without birth certificates could prove their birthplace by providing one of four acceptable documents, such as a signed statement from a midwife or witnesses, and then apply through the regularization plan, the PRNE.
Of the others affected, estimated up to 250,000, born in Haiti but living in the DR since before 2011, the plan listed the kinds of documents needed to prove their length of stay in the DR and "ties" to Dominican society. The possibilities included a deed to a house, a letter from a schoolteacher, a note from a boss or a notarized memo of good conduct from seven Dominican neighbours. The documents were to be presented at one of 31 designated offices. However, none of those offices are located in the bateys, the isolated company towns in which many of those affected live.
While there was no fee for applying for regularization to cover the estimated US$27 million the process is costing the DR, there was a cost incurred in gathering the documents. Moreover, those carrying out the process were not always sensitive to the situation of the applicants, many of whom spoke rudimentary Spanish. Rumours of abuses abounded and, no doubt, some eligible to apply did not do so out of fear or ignorance.
The international outcry
Expiry of the regularization period set off another round of international protest. An article by Rachel Nolan in the May 2015 issue of Harper's was entitled "Displaced in the D.R.: A Country Strips 210,000 of Citizenship." It was followed by a statement by Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch, cited in a New York Times editorial under the headline "Stateless in the Dominican Republic" on June 12: "The Dominican Republic is denying tens of thousands of citizens their right to a nationality, and despite mixed messages, people are being detained and shoved over the border." And on July 2, the New York Times Magazine featured "The Dominican Time Bomb" by Jonathan M. Katz, which told of plans to expel hundreds of thousands of residents of Haitian descent and buses to transport the deportees to processing centres at the border.
Racism was one of the themes of the reports, especially an August 23 article in USA Today by Yamiche Alcindor who noted that "many deportees and international human rights organizations believe that racism motivates the government's immigration purge. They claim the immigration ruling is rooted in age-old racist notions of dark-skinned people as inferior to those with lighter complexions." She was echoing the analysis of Jonathan Katz for whom the "expulsion ... seemed like the logical culmination of decades of hate: a long-ticking time bomb finally poised to go off," an...