Tensions between Haiti and the Dominican Republic have escalated this year, as the Dominican government has threatened the expulsion of thousands of Dominican-born Haitians and illegal Haitian migrants. The strict and often arbitrarily applied immigration policy has placed the island shared by the two states on the brink of a serious humanitarian crisis.
Due to the relatively porous border shared by the two states, migration between Haiti and the Dominican Republic has been relatively fluid for much of the island’s history. This history is unfortunately tainted with discrimination and violence. In 1937, Dominican leader Rafael Trujillo ordered the execution of Haitians and dark-skinned Dominicans living on the border with Haiti. Indeed, longstanding anti-Haitian sentiment lies behind current legislation that seeks to remove Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent from the country.
Until 2010, the Dominican constitution granted automatic citizenship to all who were born in the country. A constitutional amendment, applied retroactively to 1929, later restricted Dominican citizenship to the children of legal immigrants and children with at least one parent of Dominican descent. This new policy rendered stateless hundreds of thousands of Haitian immigrants and Dominicans who were citizens prior to the new legislation.
In carrying out this legislation, the Dominican government has been ordering its nearly 500,000 foreign-born workers and residents to register with government officials or face deportation. The deadline to do so was June 17, 2015, with a 45-day grace period ending August 1. While deportations are supposed to take place after the grace period has elapsed, the threat of being expelled from the country is a constant concern for many.
Complaints have been raised that the registration process is confusing and disorganized, and that the rules for registration have been subjectively applied. Applicants are required to provide proof of employment or homeownership, which can be difficult for migrant workers. They have also experienced long waiting times. It has also been reported that many government officials have used skin colour and French- or Créole-sounding names to require individuals to register.
As of the June 17 deadline, almost two-thirds of Haitian migrants and Dominican-born Haitians have filed for registration. Thousands have chosen to move to Haiti voluntarily, and others who claim to be Dominican by birth have resisted the registration process, believing that they are entitled to all the rights afforded to Dominican citizens.
The Dominican Republic’s regularization program will likely affect Dominicans with Haitian ancestry the most. By international law, all states can choose how their citizenship is determined and who is required to go through a naturalization process. States can either choose to grant nationality once someone is born within its borders – known as jus soli – or to base this designation on the nationality of one’s parents – known as jus sanguinis. A state’s nationality laws, however, should not create a segment of the population that is unable to efficiently acquire citizenship or severely disadvantaged by their lack of documentation.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has drawn attention to the human rights considerations for those that may be forced into Haiti. Many Dominican-born Haitians have no connections to Haiti, either physically or culturally, and are unable to speak French or Créole. Moving these people to an unfamiliar country would condemn them to a situation of certain insecurity, and would solidify their inability to obtain nationality and official documentation.
The Dominican government’s present citizenship policy does indeed attempt to naturalize individuals who it does not consider automatic citizens, and it intends to address the issue of illegal migrant workers. However, the policy lacks due process, as it does not have any provisions for those who will not qualify for residency and it threatens to put pressure on the Haitian government. Indeed, Haitian Foreign Minister Lener Renauld has warned that his country does not have the ability to support an influx of deportees, and several humanitarian organizations are concerned that Dominican policy will trigger a new refugee crisis.
This current impasse is a manifestation of the animosity that has for long shaped relations between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Whether the Dominican government follows through with its threat to deport non-citizens is uncertain, but the policy it ultimately adopts will undoubtedly have significant socioeconomic implications for both countries.