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If You Are Black, Get Out: The Crisis of Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

The decision by the high court in the Dominican Republic to declare Dominicans who may have Haitian ancestry "not citizens" with a start date of birth of 1929 is simply appalling.

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The decision by the high court in the Dominican Republic to declare anywhere from 250,000 to 400,000 Dominicans who may have Haitian ancestry "not citizens" with a start date of birth of 1929 is simply appalling.

For four generations Banesa Blemi's family, descendants of Haitian immigrants, put down roots as low-wage sugar cane cutters in their adopted homeland, and came to consider themselves Dominicans.

Then, last month the country's Constitutional Court issued a decision effectively denationalizing Blemi and her family, along with an estimated 250,000 fellow immigrants born after 1929.

"I have no country. What will become of me?" said Blemi, 27, standing with relatives outside the family's wooden shack near La Romana, the heart of the Dominican Republic's sugar cane industry and one of the Caribbean's top tourist resorts.

"We are Dominicans - we have never been to Haiti. We were born and raised here. We don't even speak Creole," she said, referring to Haiti's native tongue.

Many headlines of stories dealing with this travesty, simply call these people "Haitians" and few point to what is obvious—the role of racial markers and skin color.

Follow me below the fold for a closer look.


This one said it for me:

Columnist Reginald Dumas, writing for the Trinidad Express put it bluntly in the headline  "If you are black, go back," which I've amended to "get out," since how can you go back to somewhere you have never been? Dumas does make that point in his article:

The Constitutional Court has widened the net: parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are now trapped, all the way back to 1929. Several hundred thousand persons in the DR have suddenly been rendered stateless: they are not citizens of the DR, they are not citizens of Haiti. But they are black. They must go back—to a country which most of them didn’t come from, and which they do not know. By all means work in the cane fields and on the coffee plantations and in the brothels of the DR. But go back, or move along; you are “in transit”.

Many readers here have ancestors—parents, grandparents and perhaps even great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States after 1929. They became citizens, and their children and grandchildren born here are now part of the tapestry of the U.S. Imagine what would happen if the U.S. Congress passed a law rescinding that citizenship currently based on jus soli, and demanded that all of you "go back to where you came from."  

This is just what is happening in our neighboring country of the Dominican Republic, where Dominicans who have some Haitian ancestry are now being forced into statelessness by the modification of jus soli, which is retroactive.

People without a country.


For Dominicans of Haitian descent, obtaining proof of citizenship—required for everything from education to employment to voting—has become a legal and bureaucratic impossibility.

A stateless person is not recognized as a citizen by any state. Citizenship enables you not only to vote, hold public office, and exit and enter a country freely, but also to obtain housing, health care, employment, and education. It is vital in order to live a decent human life. Stateless people are denied that right.

On the left we have spent years paying attention to the statelessness of Palestinians. Many of us have not spent a lot of time looking closer to home.

There has a been a history of challenges, including the manipulation of the " in transit" clause (which is not invoked for children born of U.S. parents, for example) and the issue was brought to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

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