Harper's: "Displaced in the D.R.: A Country Strips 210,000 of Citizenship"

by Joseph McKeown

Photo by Daniel Loncarevic/iStock/ Getty Images

Photo by Daniel Loncarevic/iStock/ Getty Images

After stripping citizenship from over two hundred thousand Dominicans, many of Haitian descent, the Dominican Republic has threatened mass deportation for those who do not register with the government to obtain legal status. The threats of deportation come after years of anti-Haitian discrimination and a documented history of violence against Haitian immigrants culminating in 2013 when the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal, the nation's highest court, revoked citizenship retroactively to 1929 for all Dominicans with undocumented foreign parents even if they had been born in the Dominican Republic. The ruling, which became known as "the Sentence," effectively rendered 210,000 Dominicans stateless, most of whom are of Haitian descent. Juliana Deguis Pierre, who was one of the plaintiffs in the suit against the government that in the end backfired and led to her loss of citizenship, said the Sentence "paralyzed her life," as it meant she could not legally work, marry, open a bank account, get a driver’s license, vote, or register for high school or university. "I'm nobody in my own country," she told Harper's at the time.

In response to severe international criticism of the Sentence—including many who compared it to Hitler's stripping citizenship from Jews in Germany in the 1930s—the Dominican government issued a presidential decree for a "regularization" plan for undocumented immigrants. The plan allowed for anyone who immigrated to the Dominican Republic before October 2011 to apply for regular migratory status, and afterwards citizenship. While the plan did provide options for undocumented Dominicans to avoid deportation, critics of the plan noted the difficult obstacles in applying, including burdensome documentation requirements and the need to apply in-person at designated offices far from most Haitian communities. Those who did not apply by June 2015 would be deported.

Now that the June deadline has passed, with hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants still reportedly unregistered, it remains unclear if mass deportations will take place. The Dominican government has not stated if it will extend the deadline for registration, has repeatedly denied any plans for mass deportations, and has stated that as a sovereign nation it has the right to enact and enforce its own immigration policies as it sees fit.

In the meantime, many continue to speak out against the Dominican government's deportation plans. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke this past Sunday from Washington Heights, the Manhattan neighborhood with a large Dominican population. "It is clearly an illegal act," Mayor de Blasio said. "It is an immoral act. It is a racist act by the Dominican government. And it’s happening because these people are black. And it cannot be accepted."