By Jonathan Polo
Imagine the United States’ Congress established a law that revoked the citizenship of all the descendants of Mexican immigrants whether they immigrated legally or illegally and left them with neither United States nor Mexican citizenship?
That is exactly what happened in the Dominican Republic last week.
The highest judicial court in the Dominican Republic stripped any descendant of foreign migrants born after 1929 of their citizenship. The unprecedented and controversial decision affects almost a quarter million people, most of who are of Haitian decent, and is creating the largest refugee crisis the Caribbean has ever seen.
A U.N.-backed study released this year estimated that there are nearly 210,000 Dominican-born people of Haitian descent and roughly another 34,000 born to parents of another nationality. The Dominican government has even higher numbers estimating that some 500,000 people born in Haiti live in the Dominican Republic.
The majority of people being denied citizenship are children and young adults trying to acquire identification papers to enroll in primary schools and public universities. Most of these had nothing to do with the decisions made by their parents and, in some cases, their grandparents. Many of these children have lived their entire lives in the Dominican Republic and thus have little to no ties to Haiti, do not speak Creole, identify themselves as Dominican nationals, and now face the threat of deportation.
The ruling is already being enforced by the electoral commission, which is confiscating identification documents, and by the Dominican army, which is deporting a record number of Haitian-Dominicans.
According to the army’s numbers, 47,700 Haitians caught entering the country were deported in the past year, more than double the nearly 21,000 deported in the previous year. This trend has implications that the seemingly ever-lasting and dubiously racist attitude the Dominican government and people have had towards the Haitian people is making a return after years of moderate improvement since the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.
The two countries, which share the island of Quisqueya (or Hispañola, as it was called after Columbus and subsequent colonist arrived on the island) share a very violent and deeply rooted racist history dating as far back as the first incidents of documented history on this side of the planet. Racism was institutionalized most famously by the government of Rafael Trujillo, or Latin America’s Hitler, as I like to call him. A dictator made famous for being responsible for the death of 50,000 people throughout his 30-year rule, and his very public hatred for black people. He was frequently quoted saying the Haitian people need to be eradicated from the country for “blackening” the Dominican people. Trujillo has a place in world history as one of the most horrible, horrible dictators and one that has left a lasting negative racial legacy on Dominican society. For those unfamiliar, Trujillo identified as white and traced his ancestry to Spain and France. 16 percent of Dominicans identify as white today.
Next week commemorates the seventy-sixth anniversary since the Parsley Massacre, named after the shibboleth Trujillo and his army used to differentiate between those of Haitian decent and Afro-Dominicans. On October 8th, 1937, and for the ensuing five days, the Dominican Army, on direct orders of Rafael Trujillo, killed every Haitian they could find living near the border area of the two countries. A soldier would hold up a sprig of parsley and judge the suspected Haitian’s ability to pronounce the Spanish equivalent: perejil. Creole speaking Haitians would have trouble rolling the ‘r’ necessary to say the word and were most likely killed on the spot.
Last week’s ruling of the highest court in the Dominican Republic to make every Haitian within their borders essentially stateless, proves that Trujillo’s legacy of institutionalized racism is still alive and well. Practically every country in the world recognizes that any child born within their borders is entitled to citizenship. The fact that the Dominican government chose to only recognize children born to at least one parent of Dominican blood has no bearing and is being regarded by every international government and non-governmental organization as a human rights violation.
Unfortunately, institutionalized racism by definition is ingrained in not only in the government, but also in the courts, laws, schools, and society, so I suspect that there will not be a reversal of the ruling in the Dominican Republic unless the outcry comes from the international community. Until then, Trujillo and his sickeningly racist legacy, lives on and I personally can’t wait for him to die.
Photo by Ezequiel Abiu Lopez/AP/File