HAITI AND the Dominican Republic have never been happy neighbors, but both countries at least seemed to have moved past the violence and mistrust that characterized their relationship for much of the 20th century. However, a recent ruling by the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court threatens to upend the delicate rapport between these two countries. It could possibly revoke the citizenship of all Dominicans of Haitian decent, leaving over 200,000 people stateless. The international community should pressure the Dominican government to ensure that this does not happen.
Historically, the Dominican Republic has given citizenship to all people born on its soil — much as the United States does. However, a new constitution ratified in 2010 grants such protection only to children born to citizens or legal residents, and the Constitutional Court’s ruling authorized the government to review records going back to 1929, looking for people who no longer qualify for citizenship. The Dominican government insists that this will provide clarity to a class of people whose status in the country is hazy at best. But the upshot is that the children and grandchildren of illegal immigrants and guest workers who were brought from Haiti to work on Dominican plantations might have their citizenship revoked. Many of these people have no meaningful ties to Haiti and would be unlikely to qualify for Haitian citizenship, either.
Other nations shouldn’t condone the creation of one of the largest groups of stateless people on the planet. The United Nations has already said that it will conduct an “exhaustive study” to see if this new ruling breaks any international treaties. In the meantime, the United States, which is by far the Dominican Republic’s largest trading partner, should examine what pressures it could apply. The sudden creation of 200,000 stateless people so close to the US mainland is hardly in the best interest of the United States, and removing so many people from civil society will certainly do the Dominican Republic more harm than good.