Until 2013, anyone born in the Dominican Republic (DR) gained citizenship automatically. In September 2013, the Constitutional Court of the DR (Law 168-13) stripped citizenship of persons who could not prove that at least one of their parents was Dominican. The ruling applied to people born between 1929 and 2010, a group of approximately 240,000 Dominicans, the majority of whom were of Haitian descent. Due to the international condemnation of Law 168-13 in 2014, the DR government passed Special Law 169-14 to reinstate citizenship. This law placed people into two groups: Group A and Group B. Group A applies to those already registered in the Dominican Civil Registry who must go through a process of nationalization implemented by the Central Electoral Board. Group B applies to those born in the DR never registered in the Dominican Civil Registry. They must go through a lengthy process that reclassifies them as foreigners, and after two years, they may gain Dominican citizenship. HRW reported that many registered still faced discrimination and have difficulty obtaining birth certificates or registering their children in school. Others have faced deportation.
While the DR was sorting out the registration process for stateless Dominicans, the government implemented a National Regularization Plan in December 2013 to grant legal status to migrants so they can obtain citizenship or residency status. As part of the plan, the almost half a million undocumented workers in the Dominican Republic had to register with the government by June 17, 2015 or face deportation. Even though more than two-thirds of undocumented migrants or Dominicans of Haitian decent did register successfully, ninety-six percent of those who applied for legal status did not have passports or identification documents from their home country. Moreover, many believe that the immigration policy is a xenophobic ploy to rid people of Haitian descent from the Dominican Republic. As a result, since June 2015, Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent, the majority of whom are poor or working class, have fled the Dominican Republic to neighboring Haiti, either voluntarily or by force. Approximately 66,000 people have gone back to Haiti.
In response, the DR argues that Haiti is using the DR’s legitimate effort to fix its immigration problem as diversion away from its social and political problems. The DR states that it is enforcing its immigration laws by deporting those without legal documents, an immigration rule that governs any country that abides by the rule of the law. Jose Tomas Perez, the Ambassador of the DR to the United States, explains that the policies that the DR has implemented will protect migrants’ human rights and give legal status to people of Haitian descent who did not have them to begin with. He vows that the DR will not deport those born in the DR or unaccompanied minors. Furthermore, he promises that indiscriminate deportations will not occur, and that the government will investigate any acts targeting Haitian migrants. Ambassador Perez also emphasizes that the DR’s citizenship policies are similar to those of Europe and other Caribbean countries, where citizenship is not a birthright.
Rights groups have called into question the legality of the Dominican Republic’s immigration policies, criticizing Laws 168-13 and 169-14 as violating the fundamental right to nationality. The American Convention on Human Rights, which the Dominican Republic has ratified, codifies this fundamental right in Article 20. Article 20 of the Convention provides that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of their nationality,” and that “every person has the right to the nationality of the state in whose territory he was born if he does not have the right to any other nationality.” Law 168-13 left many Dominicans of Haitian descent virtually stateless, possibly violating Article 20 of the Convention.
Although Law 169-14 attempts to rectify the situation, it does not automatically reinstate citizenship. Moreover, Law 169-14 converts members in Group B, who are Dominican citizens, into foreigners. The DR’s National Regularization Plan may also be a violation of fundamental human rights. Under Article 3 of the Draft Articles on the Expulsion of Aliens, it is an inherent right of a state to expel aliens from its territory. However, Article 3 places a limit on expulsion, stating, “[E]xpulsion shall be . . . without prejudice to other applicable rules of international law, in particular those relating to human rights.” It is a violation of the Declaration of Human Rights for a state to expel an alien arbitrarily from its borders. An arbitrary expulsion is one that is unjust or oppressive based on subjective criteria. Furthermore, Article 14 of the Draft Articles on Expulsion of Aliens prohibits discriminatory expulsion based race, nationality, or ethnicity. Thus, while the Dominican Republic has the right to expel undocumented people from its borders, it does not have the right to expel people for discriminatory reasons, or to deprive people with no other nationality of their Dominican nationality. On October 23, 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights scheduled a hearing on the Right to Nationality in the Dominican Republic to address the issue.