Home > News > The Struggle For Citizenship In The Dominican Republic

Jimani is one of two border crossing points between Haiti and the Dominican Republic that is notorious for its long lines of stateless people who rarely get to speak to an Immigration Officer. Photo: Susan Cahill.


Do we need to die before we get our citizenship? This is the question nearly a quarter of a million people ask themselves in the Dominican Republic. Recent citizenship legislation has effectively put over 220,000 people in limbo as they are categorised as foreign descent stateless.

In September 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court made a landmark ruling revoking the citizenship of children of unauthorised migrants born in the Dominican Republic since 1929. While this decision affects the sons and daughters of immigrants – Jews, Europeans, Chinese, the vast majority of immigrant children living in the Dominican Republic are of Haitian descent.

Gonzalo Vargas Llosa now the UNHCR Representative in the UK spent four years as the UNHCR’s Representative in the Dominican Republic, and he was instrumental in highlighting the plight of Dominicans of Haitian descent in the Dominican Republic. “The decision stripped 200,000 people from their Dominican nationality. From the late 90s, the state in the Dominican Republic began putting in practice a policy denationalising persons born in the Dominican Republic descendants of Haitians,” says Gonzalo Vargas Llosa.

“Let me give you an example of a girl called Maria. She was born in the Dominican Republic, and managed to study but only up to Primary School. She could not go further than primary because to go to Secondary School, the school requires that you have a document an immigration document so she could not do that. So she did some studies on her own because she was very studious, and she did so well studying on her own that an academic institution in the US offered her a scholarship to continue her studies given that she couldn’t continue them in the Dominican Republic.”

“But of course she could not take up that extraordinary offer because the state would not give her documentation to travel. So she misses that opportunity. So later on she fell in love as girls do when she was 19 or 20 but she couldn’t marry because she still does not have documentation that is required to marry,” says Gonzalo Vargas Llosa as he recounts Maria’s hopeless story, “despite this she wanted to have a family with this man, and after a couple of years she had a daughter. The problem is the daughter is born, and does not have documentation because the mother Maria does not have documentation. So this means the whole cycle of statelessness begins again. Unless this problem is solved then the daughter of Maria’s daughter will also be stateless.”

This controversial Court ruling has sent shock waves across the Americas and has increased racial tensions and social divides in the Dominican Republic. In October 2014, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned ‘the unprecedented situation of statelessness in the Dominican Republic,’ and ruled that the Dominican Republic had violated international human rights law. The Court asked the Dominican Republic to revoke its new citizenship legislation. The Dominican government rejected this Court ruling and has consistently refused to comply.

In ‘Soy Dominicano: The Struggle for Citizenship in the Dominican Republic’, Newstalk’s Susan Cahill reports on the recent wave of xenophobic, and racist attacks sweeping through the Dominican Republic since this controversial Court ruling. Susan meets with Dominican families – men, women and children who face the possibility of deportation. Susan asks – has the Dominican Republic purposely reinterpreted their citizenship policy to discriminate against Dominicans of Haitian ancestry?

‘Soy Dominicano’ travels through the towns and villages of the Dominican Republic meeting with human rights activists, lawyers, politicians, journalists and campaigners fighting for the right to citizenship and highlights the personal stories of Dominican stateless communities – men, women and children who face a future of uncertainty, vulnerability and fear.

‘Soy Dominicano: The Struggle for Citizenship in the Dominican Republic’ will be broadcast on the Documentary on Newstalk on Saturday the 5 of September from 7am to 8am, and then repeated that evening from 10pm to 11pm. This documentary is part of a series that focuses on the issue of statelessness in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.