A situation brewing in the Dominican Republic will potentially displace thousands of citizens of Haitian descent outside the country if a court ruling is upheld. The Dominican High Court ruled in September that any person born in the country to parents that did not have legal status could not claim citizenship.
According to the accounts of human rights groups and other activists, more than 200,000 people could be affected.
The “National Regularization Plan for Foreigners,” signed by Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina following the controversial court ruling, will be submitted to Congress for approval in the coming weeks, according to Reuters.
If the ruling stands, in June 2014 children of illegal migrants in the Dominican Republic will have just 18 months to apply for legal citizenship.
However, it hasn’t been explained how one would obtain legal standing nor is there a listing on how to qualify.
Joseph Cherubin, director of the local non-profit Sociocultural Movement for Haitian Workers, told the Associated Press that there are a number of contradictions in the plan.
“To naturalize someone, they need to have a foreign passport,” Cherubin said. “You can’t naturalize a Dominican.”
Simply put, these citizens were born in the county and by that right should be considered natural citizens. Since those individuals never lived elsewhere and obtained citizenship documents from another country, it would appear to be a moot and impossible point to have them naturalized.
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In the last week, more than 460 Haitians voluntarily left the Dominican Republic or have been deported to Haiti, after growing tensions between the groups have been mounting. There are also anti-Haitian grumblings arising in light of the murder of an elderly Dominican reportedly by two Haitian men who have yet to be caught.
The Dominican government claims that while their plan is set to be retroactive back to 1929, they estimate a much lower number of displaced citizens. By their account, only 24,000 people would be affected by the law.
However, after the murder of the aforementioned couple on the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, there have been reports of citizens being forced to retreat amid violent opposition.
Unfortunately, there has been a long history of conflict between the two nations dating back to the days of Christopher Columbus.
Hispaniola, the island Columbus established as Europe’s first settlement in 1492 for Spain, has been ravaged by slavery, colonialism, war, and oppression. In 1697. a third of the nation was ceded to France, with the country taking over the entire island in 1795. However in 1801, General Toussaint L’Ouverture, a former slave, freed all the slaves on the island and united them under his rule.
The 1800s saw more of this national tug-of-war between Haitians and the Spanish-ruled Dominicans, with the Dominican Republic finally gaining its independence from Haiti in 1844.
From there a deep divide between the nations was reborn in the early 20th Century, after Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo ordered the massacre of thousands of Haitian workers along the border.
Trujillo, a man who reportedly wanted to be seen as White and was said to use makeup to lighten his skin, struck fear in to Haitians although his grandmother was Haitian herself.
Today, that deadly border remains as not only a reminder of the bitter past of the nations, but also serves as a focal point of ongoing tensions.
Meanwhile, dozens of Haitian migrants died last week after a wooden sailing boat carrying 150 people looking to flee Haiti capsized. Though 110 people were rescued, several bodies are still missing.