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Excerpt from Research Paper titled, “Discussing The Dominican Citizenship Policy In The Political And
Economic Environment Of The Hispaniola Island
Relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic have frequently been marked by tense interactions
and racially motivated events. Recently, a Supreme Court ruling regarding citizenship in the Dominican
Republic has brought the tense relationship between the two countries to the forefront.
In 2014, Juliana Deguis Pierre, a Dominican born person of Haitian descent, took up the Dominican
Republic in court regarding her citizenship. Pierre, who provided documentation establishing her place of birth,
argued for her rights as a natural born citizen. In spite of this, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled against her,
thereby rejecting not only Pierre’s status as a citizen, but also the citizenship of 250,000 people living in the
Dominican Republic (Margerin, Varma, & Sarmiento, 2014). Now many Dominicans and immigrants, a large
majority of whom are of Haitian decent, face deportation and legal repercussions in the coming years. In
response, several countries and international organizations have condemned the Dominican government
claiming that the newly established precedent is a blatant violation of human rights and could effectively result
in a humanitarian crisis.
Nonetheless, the assumed outcomes of the decision have yet to be revealed clearly and no more than a
few stories in the coming months have acknowledged the issue, thereby leaving an overall question as to what
has happened on the island and how the monumental decision has affected the daily lives of the people living
there. The answers to these questions have become increasingly important, as the legitimacy of the Haitian
government continues to be called into question.
Understanding the Constitutional Ruling in the Political Environment of the Hispaniola Island
During the presidency of Joaquín Balaguer in the late 1960s, thousands of workers poured into
Dominican sugar cane fields to take advantage of the booming industry. Many of them came to secure job
opportunities that were not available in Haiti, however their movement resulted in a lasting presence of Haitian
culture and people on the Latin side of the island (Rodriguez, 2011). Formal policies and measures were
enacted to control the heavy flow of migrants in response. Of noteworthy importance, the General Law of
Migration created in 2004 expanded limitations to birthright citizenship in the Dominican Constitution by
clarifying the term “in transit.” The new definition would consider non-citizens as being in transit in addition to
immigrants who traveled to the country for employment (Sears, 2014). The children of these persons could
therefore not be considered citizens, regardless if they were born on Dominican soil.
Juliana Deguis Pierre’s case became the tip on the iceberg that reinforced this change in law in 2011.
Using the General Law of 2004, the Constitutional Tribunal declared Pierre as a non-citizen because her parents
registered her using a temporary workers card, which would have placed them in the category of “in transit”
(Gongalves Margeri, Kalra Varma, & Sarmiento, 2014). As noted by Gongalves Margeri, Kalra Varma, &
Sarmiento (2014), the high court did not stop there with their decision as they:
To implement its sweeping ruling, the high court requested an audit of all civil registry books since 1929
to remove those whose parents were undocumented at the time of their birth and to register their names
in the Book of Foreigners. Using the "in transit" definition of the 2004 Migration Law, the
Constitutional Tribunal estimated that nearly a quarter of a million individuals fall under this
description thereby authorizing the retroactive revocation of their citizenship. (p. 12).
The decision alone angered several organizations and countries around the world, but what is more
important to note is the Dominican government’s support for the ruling. When the former dictator, Rafael
Trujillo, was relinquished from power in 1961, the Dominican Republic struggled to maintain a fair democracy.
The constant battle for power between political parties, the army, and elites created an environment that was
difficult to reconstruct. In spite of this, Skelley Jordan notes that (2011), “a peaceful exchange of power through
three elections (1996, 2000, and 2004) placed Dominicans in the company of maturing democracies” (p. 579).
Currently they are becoming a strong political player in the Caribbean moving past their troubled history.
Therefore, supporting the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal is an issue about asserting their position as a
sovereign nation as much as it is about controlling immigration. The Dominican Government fervently rejected
criticism from global actors around the world, such as Amnesty International (AI) and the Inter-American Court
of Human Rights (IACHR) (Planas, 2015). By continuing to do so, they are not only demonstrating that the
times where foreign intervention was needed are long gone, but they are also strengthening their political stance
in the western hemisphere.
On the contrary, Haiti is not nearly as advanced democratically. The country has struggled to maintain
an effective and working democracy since the 1990s resulting in active participation from foreign powers. In
fact, 2011 marked the first year of a peaceful transition of power between opposing parties (Taft Morales,
2014). Former president René Préval of the Inité (unity) party passed over the presidential sash to his successor,
Michel Martelly of the Repons Peyizan party (Farmer’s Response, also know as the Peasant’s party). It was
momentous step forward for the nation, but even this election came about with some conflict. Taft Morales
(2014) found that, “Martelly won 68% of the votes cast in the March 20th
, 2011 elections, [but] turnout was low,
so those votes constituted the support of only 15% of all registered voters” (p. 7). Overall, only 23% of the
registered voter population participated in the election, which is a shockingly low percent for a democratic
nation. The legislature was also incomplete once Martelly was sworn in. Findings of corruption resulted in
empty seats that would have to be filled during the next election.
It therefore comes as no surprise that the elections for the 2016 term resulted in worse conflict. Within a
year after the due date for Dominican nationals to declare citizenship, former president of Haiti, Michel
Martelly, stepped down from office without leaving an elected successor to take his place (Charles, 2016). The
presidential elections that were originally scheduled for a run off vote in late January were postponed due to
complaints of fraud and corruption (Guyler Daniel & J. Daniel, 2016). An interim government with Senator
Jocelerme Privert as acting president has been put in place until elections on April 24th
, but the likelihood of the
actual election occurring appears questionable.
Considering the outcome of the 2011 elections and the postponement for the presidential seat in 2016,
Haiti is obviously in no condition to deal with the repercussions of Dominican’s new citizenship policy.
Politically, they have no power to force the reversal of the decision or to compel foreign groups into
intervening. The Haitian government is also in no position to process the thousands of Dominicans and Haitians
that are being deported from the Dominican Republic as they lack a stable government and active legislature to
enact policies and citizenship programs for incoming refugees. Once this political situation is paralleled with
Haiti’s poor economy, migrants from the Dominican Republic will be facing the loss of basic needs such as
housing, food, and jobs in the upcoming months to come.