The Dominican Republic’s choice to retroactively strip some of its residents of citizenship has created the fifth-largest group of stateless people in the world. Until recently, the Dominican Republic considered all persons born in the country to be citizens, but in 2013, the Dominican Constitutional Court retroactively revoked citizenship for children born to foreign parents as early as 1929. Tuesday was residents’ last chance to petition for naturalization to regain citizenship (albeit a lesser form).
The ruling is expected to primarily affect persons of Haitian heritage, who have been targeted for expulsion previously. Applying the ruling as far back as 1929 meant that families who had been citizens for two or more generations lost their Dominican Republic citizenship and couldn’t turn to Haiti for a new home. A foreign-born person of Haitian descent is eligible for Haitian citizenship only if one parent is a natural-born Haitian citizen.
The United Nations Refugee Agency said at the time of the ruling that it was “deeply concerned” by the Dominican Republic’s policy. The U.N. estimates that 210,000 residents of the Dominican Republic are now stateless.
The Dominican Republic’s only attempt to mitigate the effects of the ruling has been a 2014 law allowing those who had previously been considered natural-born citizens to apply for naturalized citizenship, provided they had the documents to prove they were born in the Dominican Republic. Residents of Haitian descent have alleged that registration workers have illegally denied qualified applicants and even confiscated the documents that applicants provided.
Even if the registration process weren’t drawing criticism, it would be of little help to many longtime Haitian residents of the Dominican Republic. According to the 2010 Dominican Republic census, 41 percent of all foreign-born Haitian residents live in rural areas, where their natural-born children are much less likely to be entered into the civil registry or to be issued an official birth certificate.
Since the final deadline to register for naturalization passed Tuesday, persons of Haitian descent are waiting to see what the government decides to do. In a 2002 report, Human Rights Watch described what happened to Haitians who were expelled from the Dominican Republic in previous deportation waves: late-night raids, forced busing across the Haitian border and abandonment in what was, to them, a foreign country with only the clothes on their backs.
Once stateless people have been pushed out of their former home, they have no unique claim on any country in the world, which can wind up meaning that no nation offers them a new place to settle and be citizens. For example, hundreds of Rohingya Muslims, part of the world’s single largest group of stateless people, have been in limbo after escaping Myanmar earlier this year. Although they have been given shelter in temporary camps, they have no new nation to belong to. If the Dominican Republic expels its newly stateless residents, they may also find that they have nowhere to legally live.