Dimanche is among as many as 110,000 people living in the Dominican Republic without any legal status after the government, following a Supreme Court decision, began denying citizenship to Dominican-born children of undocumented immigrants, almost all of whom came from neighboring Haiti. She said she lacks official paperwork on her birth because she was born at home, and now fears she’ll be deported to Haiti, a country she doesn’t know.

“You’re living in the place that’s your home, where you grew up, but it’s like you are a foreigner,” the 27-year-old Dimanche said. “I don’t know what my future is here.”
President Danilo Medina’s government can start deporting people ineligible for citizenship after June 15, Washington Gonzalez, deputy minister of the Interior and Police, told reporters in January. With only 8,755 people enrolled in a government process to offer a path to citizenship, forced deportations could send tens of thousands of people out of what was one of the Western Hemisphere’s fastest-growing economies last year into its poorest.

“The Dominican Republic’s actions against Haitian immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent are shameful examples of discrimination and violations of basic human rights,” Carlos Ponce, director of Latin America programs at Freedom House, a Washington-based organization that promotes political and civil liberties, said in a Feb. 13 statement.

Fueling Growth

Haitian migrants have filled construction and agriculture jobs, helping the Dominican Republic’s economy to expand 7.1 percent last year, according to central bank figures.

Fermin Acosta, president of the Dominican Housing Builders and Developers Association, said 260,000 to 270,000 undocumented Haitians work in the construction industry and that deportations would paralyze the economy.

“A massive repatriation of Haitians would not just affect construction, but also other sectors, such as agriculture,” he said.

Haiti would also find it hard to absorb so many returnees. The country, devastated by an earthquake in 2010, has the lowest income per capita in the Americas at $852, compared with $5,894 in the Dominican Republic.

The tension on immigration stems from a September 2013 ruling by the Dominican Republic’s highest court that children of undocumented immigrants are not eligible for citizenship even if they were born on Dominican soil.

The ruling applied to anyone born after 1929, when the country’s constitution was changed to remove birthright citizenship for children of people who were “in transit,” a term the court applied to immigrants, regardless of how long they had been in the country.

Sovereign Right

The Dominican government has defended its policies as a humane solution to a long-standing problem related to a steady flow of illegal migration from Haiti.

The Dominican Republic is a “country without exclusion, without discrimination, but also a country that is rigorously organized in which the law must be followed,” Medina said Feb. 27 in an address marking the anniversary of the country’s independence from Haiti in 1844. “No other nation in the world, or international organization, can demand that the Dominican Republic make sacrifices to its migratory system, or any other sovereign right beyond those in place through laws and the constitution.”

Dominicans have backed Medina’s handling of the situation. The president’s approval rating reached as high as 91 percent in a Oct. 12-16 poll by Washington-based Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. The survey had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points. Medina is constitutionally barred from running for reelection next year.

Causing Friction

As a result of the court ruling, 50,000 to 110,000 people are living in the Dominican Republic without any legal documentation. They are not able to get certified copies of their birth certificates or documentation needed to apply for a marriage license, register children in school, or work in a formal job.

Swept up in the ruling were students, nurses, doctors and lawyers and Major League Baseball prospects who were not able to obtain a visa to travel to the U.S. because they couldn’t apply for a passport.

In a country with a 14.1 percent unemployment rate, the presence of so many Haitian immigrants has caused friction.

“With a large majority of immigrants coming from Haiti, it is critical that the governments of Haiti and Dominican Republic cooperate closely to provide the necessary identification for Haitians living and working in the Dominican Republic,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in July after a visit to the countries.

Untrodden Path

In response to critics of last year’s court decision, the government provided a path to citizenship to those affected, who fall into two categories: Some 24,000 people who had previously held national identification cards but were stripped of them; and another group of people who were never documented with the civil registry.

The process to register the second group ended Feb. 2 after identifying 8,755 people. Human rights groups called the process a “failure.”

“We have done everything that we had to do under the process,” Gonzalez said in a news conference after the registration process ended.

Human rights groups said people are already routinely deported. They point to a January case in which 51 people were expelled while they were on their way to register for documentation. Armed Dominican soldiers boarded a bus, detained the passengers, including several children, took them across the Haitian border and released them.

Expelled Children

“What we have already started seeing is individuals, many of whom are children, being summarily expelled from the country where they were born,” said Wade McMullen, an attorney at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights in Washington. “We’re fearful that without any intervention and protection, tens of thousands of others will be subject to the same.”

To be sure, many of those affected are probably eligible for citizenship in Haiti, which recognizes jus sanguinis, or blood right, citizenship. Dimanche believes that may be her only choice.

“I’ve never been to Haiti, but that could be what I’ll have to do,” she said.

Dimanche said she is regularly harassed by police who stop her and ask for her national identity card and by citizens, who call her “Haitian” and “negra,” a slur for black women. She fears for her two younger siblings, who are studying medicine and dentistry.

“They could graduate,” she said, “but then they don’t know what will happen.”