Erroneous objections to the Dominican constitutional ruling on citizenship

Commentaries on the recent Dominican court ruling are unfair, misleading and factually wrong.

The majority of countries around the world have similar citizenship policies like the Dominican Republic, writes the author [AP]

A recent ruling [Es] by the Dominican constitutional court on citizenship eligibility has generated a lot of media controversy. Al Jazeera joined prestigious newspapers in covering the issue and published a commentary by Dr Manuel Barcia. Unfortunately, Dr Barcia’s article exhibits multiple problems, including one-sided compassion, brazen unfairness, and misleading and provably erroneous information. If these inaccuracies and problems are not addressed, impoverished innocent people may suffer undesirable side effects.

The ruling: clarifications and justification

One cannot be stripped of something one has never had.

For starters, it is simply false that according to the ruling “all those born in the country after 1929, and whose parents were not Dominicans, should no longer be considered Dominican citizens.” The ruling has no effect on anyone ever born in the DR to a legal permanent resident.

Furthermore, the ruling did not “strip four generations of Dominicans of Haitian descent, of their citizenship”. One cannot be stripped of something one has never had. The ruling does dictate that according to all Dominican constitutions [Es] since 1929, those born to illegal residents, or to individuals in certain “transient” categories, have never qualified for Dominican birthright citizenship (jus soli), unless they were ineligible for the citizenship of their parents (by jus sanguinis).

The ruling makes no change to the official policy of the Dominican Republic. For instance, it can be easily verified that, at least since 1939, a valid Dominican birth declaration has required parents to show valid officially issued identification cards (“cedulas de indentidad”). Illegal residents cannot legally obtain such ID’s. Hence, any Dominican birth certificate, a person in such status may have obtained, is necessarily invalid. Such residents have been, for decades, expected to get birth certificates for their children from their consular authorities.

However, immigration errors, whether by mistake or mischief, are a problem in many societies, and when discovered anywhere around the world, the records are corrected. In fact, the birth certificate presented by the plaintiff explicitly indicates the absence of the parents’ official IDs, which is prima facie evidence of the certificate’s invalidity. Since the plaintiff was not likely to be the only one with an improperly obtained Dominican birth certificate, the ruling did order an audit to identify all of those who, for whatever reasons, may have been improperly registered as Dominicans.

The ruling is not retroactive, since each case is considered under the constitution in force at the time of birth (hence the 1929 starting date). In fact, it agrees with previous Dominican court rulings and administrative decisions. For instance, years ago, the Dominican Supreme Court argued [Es] that for as long as parents in legal status under certain (“de transito“) categories were excluded from jus soli privilege, illegal residents needed to also be excluded, simply as a matter of judicial consistence: No one should gain additional legal benefits as a consequence of falling outside the rule of law.

Comparison to other countries

The excessive outcry by Dr Barcia and others against the ruling inherently implies that the Dominican citizenship policy for illegal residents is exceptionally severe. However, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, 145 of 194 countries do not award automatic citizenship at birth to those born to illegal residents, and 19 are of unknown policy, leaving only 30 countries confirmed to do so (and in only a fraction of these is illegal immigration a serious problem).

In fact, many countries award citizenship regardless of birthplace, but only to children born to their own citizens (jus sanguinis) as, ironically, does Haiti itself! According to Haiti’s constitution, no one with a Haitian parent can become stateless, and Haitian parents can obtain birth certificates from Haitian consulates worldwide (four of which are in the Dominican Republic). By the same token, a child born in Haiti to Dominicans or any non-Haitians is denied Haitian citizenship, not only if the parents are illegal residents in Haiti, but even if they have long been legal permanent residents there.

Yet, commentators like Dr Barcia do not accuse Haitians, or any of the great many countries with similar policies, of xenophobia or racism.

Likewise, it is disingenuous to imply that a person born to Haitians in the Dominican side of a small island (about the size of Austria or the US state of South Carolina) somehow manages to lose her/his parents’ language (even though she/he needs it to communicate with them!), as well as all connections with the relatives and culture on the other side of the small island, even though she/he can, on Dominican soil, interact with other Haitians, receive Haitian broadcasts, and possibly, periodically cross the porous border back and forth. And, again, if such argument was valid in the Dominican Republic, it would also apply in any of the 145 plus countries where similar cases arise with normality.

Racial issues

Those who have written the Dominican constitutions have known the past and present factors that induce legitimate concerns on the Dominican people about Haitians’ massive presence.

Dr Barcia, as others, repeatedly accuse Dominicans of racial prejudice. Yet he himself touches on historical events that provide alternate non-racial explanations for Dominicans to feel apprehensive about Haitians and their massive presence. In the early 19th century, Haiti started out as the more prosperous and populous side, officially defined itself as including the entire “indivisible” island, and promptly invaded the Spanish-speaking side. Retreating Haitian troops committed well-documented abuses on the local population. Years later, shortly after Dominicans became independent from Spain, Haitians invaded again, and went on to rule the Dominican side with an iron fist for over two decades. In 1844, Dominicans fought and won their independence from Haiti, but for years had to resist repeated major armed invasions from Haiti.

Since then, Haiti has retained a numerical population advantage, and a much higher population density. Very large numbers of Haitians have, at one point or another, for various reasons, entered and/or remained in the Dominican Republic without legal approval from the Dominican authorities (currently at least over half a million do so). The possibility that masses of Haitians occupy large portions of the DR, eventually gaining political control over the Dominican Republic through their Dominican-born children is by no means far-fetched.

Moreover, the fact that, in Dr Barcia’s words, “Haitians have constituted the most substantially underpaid labour force” forces impoverished Dominicans competing with Haitians for the same jobs to accept the same low wages. They must also compete with Haitians in the informal economy, as well as for overloaded important public services, such as hospitals and schools. It is then undeniable that the massive Haitian presence in the Dominican Republic, while possibly beneficial to certain business interests and wealthy individuals, significantly lowers the living standards of the Dominican poor.

Those who have written the Dominican constitutions have known the past and present factors that induce legitimate concerns on the Dominican people about Haitians’ massive presence. It stands to reason that they have considered such concerns, while writing the constitutions. This may very well be the strongest argument in favour of the Dominican Constitutional Court‘s [Es] ruling.

Dr Virgilio Rodriguez is a research scientist at the University of Paderborn in Germany. He has great interest in Dominican migratory and constitutional issues. He holds a doctorate degree from the New York University’s Polytechnic Institute, and has postgraduate training in economics at the Birbeck College of the University of London.