Greetings from Santo Domingo! For the past weeks I have been in the Dominican Republic researching the constitutional reform that proposes to change the definition of Article 11 in the current constitution to state that the children of undocumented immigrants born in the Dominican Republic would not be considered Dominican nationals.
Currently, the majority of undocumented immigrants are Haitian and for many civil society groups this amendment to the constitution is just the last of many attempts to create laws that would legally exclude a population that has been historically marginalized. With this proposed reform the children of undocumented immigrants will never be considered Dominicans and never have the opportunity to exercise their rights as full citizens. This would mean limited access to basic services and a sense of belonging nowhere; in sum, statelessness.
I’ve been looking for answers to many questions over the past few weeks and I feel that those questions have generated even more questions. The fact of the matter is that while there are undocumented immigrants coming from countries other than Haiti, the data on these groups is non-existent making it difficult to see how these laws and constitutional changes are affecting groups other than Dominicans of Haitian descent. It is also public knowledge that many opinion leaders have explicitly stated that Dominicans of Haitian descent are just as Haitian as their parents. In a country where politics are so entrenched in the daily lives of all, the opinion of these individuals does matter and can effectively influence.
My interviews with several non-governmental organizations have revealed that their struggle for inclusiveness and the right to a name and nationality for Dominicans of Haitian descent has been an uphill battle and at times they have felt as if all of their recourses had been exhausted. However, there have been victories such as Yean y Bosico vs Republica Dominicana in which the Inter-American Court of Human Rights demanded that two young Dominican girls of Haitian descent be granted their birth certificates and publicly acknowledge and apologize. The Dominican Republic continues to reject this ruling and in many ways have negatively responded to the international attention this case received.
In a country where economic development has not directly translated into human development it is concerning to see how large sectors of the Dominican population are being excluded. I must add that citizenship rights are not only limited to Dominicans of Haitian descent but to many poor Dominicans who are not of Haitian descent that do not have access to their birth certificates. In a country where birth certificates equal Dominican nationality it remains to be seen how those who cannot prove their nationality can define the imagined nation.
MA Candidate, CLACS