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By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA (AlertNet) – For 75 years, the Dominican Republic granted automatic citizenship to anyone born in the Caribbean nation.
But everything changed after the Dominican government passed a law in 2004 that effectively eliminated birthright citizenship.
That means a child born in the Dominican Republic is no longer automatically a citizen. Today, citizenship usually is granted only to people who can prove they have at least one parent who has documents showing they are legal citizens of the Dominican Republic.
The law has had a profound impact on the hundreds of thousands of people of Haitian descent who were born in the Dominican Republic.
Many are the children and grandchildren of Haitian migrants, who had crossed the border illegally from Haiti into the Dominican Republic to work in the country’s sugarcane fields and then permanently settled there. After being recognised as Dominican citizens for decades, they suddenly found this was no longer the case.
This is the situation 22-year-old Miguel Angel Joseph (pictured) finds himself in. Born in the Dominican Republic, he is the son of Haitian migrants who moved there to work as sugarcane cutters.
Over the decades, hundreds of thousands of Haitian migrants have provided cheap labour on sugarcane fields, at construction sites and in homes as domestic workers in the Dominican Republic.
Since 2010, Joseph has not been able to go to secondary school to finish his studies because he is no longer considered a Dominican national. He sometimes finds temporary work as an agricultural labourer.
Edison Suero, a rights activist who works for a non-governmental organisation, the Socio-Cultural Movement for Haitian Workers (MOSCTHA), says the changes in Dominican citizenship laws have made many Dominicans of Haitian descent, in effect, stateless.
“We’re talking about Dominicans born in the Dominican Republic who are being denied their right to citizenship. Without proper documentation, these residents have no legal status in the Dominican Republic and many who have been in the country for years are unable to prove they are legal citizens of Haiti. So they are not recognised as nationals by any country,” Suero said.
Juan Emanier, 22, was born in the Dominican Republic and is also stateless. His parents are illegal Haitian migrants living in the Dominican Republic.
“The Dominican government is asking him and his sister to prove they were born in the Dominican Republic and have never left the country,” Suero said, adding that MOSCTHA is helping him and other people sort out his legal status and take his case to court.
Emanier lives in a typical village of sugarcane workers, known as a batey, surrounded by sugarcane plantations. These isolated, rural communities have little or no access to clean water, schools and healthcare, rights groups say.
For 26-year-old Mariana Jose and her four children (pictured), the future is uncertain.
Jose was born in the Dominican Republic to Haitian parents who had crossed the border illegally into the country to work in the sugarcane industry in the 1980s. It is the only country she has ever known.
But Jose does not have a birth certificate proving she was born in the Dominican Republic. Without that she cannot register the births of her children, who were also all born in the country, meaning they do not have Dominican citizenship.
“The vigorous enforcement of the new rules means that hundreds of thousands of people, mostly of Haitian descent, are finding it increasingly difficult to get access to their birth certificates, which are required to get married, obtain a high school diploma, start a business, get a driver’s license, passport or identity card, or even sign up for a mobile phone plan,” Suero said.
It is children who often bear the brunt of being stateless. Seven-year-old Alesia (pictured) is one of Mariana Jose’s daughters. As she has no birth certificate or legal documents, Alesia cannot enrol at a local school. She is being deprived of basic rights, such as access to school and healthcare, which most Dominican citizens take for granted, Suero said.
Jeni Emanier, 24, has a three-year-old son and lives with her parents. She says the hospital in the Dominican Republic where she was born lost her birth certificate. Without it, she cannot get a national identity card.
“Even though Jeni has a witness at the time of birth they still can't get a birth certificate,” said Suero. “She’s out of work because without a national identity card you basically can't do anything.”
Photos courtesy of Edison Suero, MOSCTHA-USA and Thomas De Los Santos.
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