[Jillian Blake is an immigration attorney at a non-profit organization in Alexandria, Virginia. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).]
In May, Dominican President Danilo Medina signed a new naturalization law aimed at restoring the rights of some who were stripped of their citizenship in a September 2013 Supreme Court ruling. The ruling held that those born in the Dominican Republic to undocumented immigrants, who are predominantly black and of Haitian origin, are not Dominican citizens and instructed the government to apply the ruling retroactively, going back to 1929. International human rights groups strongly condemned the decision as racist and xenophobic and argued it would render hundreds of thousands of people stateless. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), an international organization made up of 15 Caribbean states, also denounced the ruling and suspended the Dominican Republic’s application for membership.
The new citizenship law, Law 169-14, was passed this spring in response to the international backlash against the Supreme Court decision. Law 169-14 establishes a regime to restore the citizenship rights of those born between 1929 and 2007 who are entered in the civil registry. Notably, the law excludes restoration of citizenship to those born between 2007 and 2010, the year the new Dominican Constitution first revoked jus soli citizenship, or citizenship based on where one is born. All those born after 2007, or who are not in the civil registry, are required to register as foreigners and will then have to apply for regularization and naturalization.
While the law could restore citizenship rights to thousands of people, it is far from a final victory against statelessness in the Dominican Republic. First, the law only addresses a small percentage of those impacted by the Supreme Court ruling. According to human rights groups roughly 24,000 of the more than 200,000 people rendered stateless could qualify to have their citizenship restored under the law, and even that restoration is not automatic. Part of the reason so few will be affected is that for many years hospitals and government agencies refused to issue birth certificates or other identity documents to children of parents of Haitian origin. Many children born in the Dominican Republic do not have birth certificates and/or are not listed in the civil registry. Any long-lasting solution will require hospitals to issue birth certificates for, and enter into the civil registry, all persons born in the Dominican Republic and recognize their citizenship. There also should be a national drive to document (as citizens) those born in the Dominican Republic who do not currently possess birth certificates.
Second, the new law is still premised on the illegal assumption that those born in Dominican territory are not citizens. This retrogression of established inter-American law, which recognizes jus soli citizenship, is not only illegitimate but could lead to the denial of rights elsewhere in the future. Third, given the racially-biased administration of past immigration and naturalization regulations in the Dominican Republic, there is a serious concern that even those entitled to the restoration of citizenship under the law will never actually be recognized as citizens. Fourth, the law requires those who are not in the civil registry to register with the government within 90 days after the law takes affect, which will exclude many who can’t register in time, especially the poor and those living in remote areas. Finally, the law will not restore citizenship to future generations born in the Dominican Republic, which will leave a perpetual system of statelessness in the country.
In an Article forthcoming in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Modern Critical Race Perspectives entitled, “Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Race-based Statelessness in the Americas” I analyze the 2013 Supreme Court decision and long history of citizenship exclusion based on racial and ethnic prejudice in the Dominican Republic.