By MARIAJOSE RODRIGUEZ-PLIEGO ’16
Assistant Opinions Editor
The highest court of the Dominican Republic recently canceled the citizenship of more than 200,000 people born in the country after 1929 to parents without Dominican ancestry. This ruling extends the definition of people “in transit” to include those who have been in the country for decades, which leaves their children and grandchildren stateless, even though they were born in the country.
Most of those affected by this decision are people of Haitian descent whose parents or grandparents immigrated to the Dominican Republic in search of work opportunities. The Dominican court’s ruling leaves three generations of residents stateless and is a blatantly racist act. It is is an oversimplified solution to deep-rooted institutional problems. Instead of strengthening the country’s institutions to take advantage of the immigration influx and increase the country’s economic production, the Dominican court has decided to eliminate a vulnerable immigrant group that happens to be descended from their disliked neighbors.
As a result of this court ruling, more than 200,000 people are currently in limbo, without access to education or health care, and without the right to vote or gain access to travel documents. Many of them have no resources to emigrate and also nowhere to go. The surrounding Caribbean countries are under no obligation to recognize them as anything other than Dominicans. Neighboring Haiti does not have the resources to take in thousands of people. Furthermore, most of these stateless people do not speak Haitian Creole, which would make it difficult for them to integrate into the Haitian community.
This stateless group would certainly be better off in another country where they wouldn’t be the victims of racism. However, their absence would not solve deep-rooted discrimination in the country. These discriminatory attitudes can be traced back to the times of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s three-decade dictatorship that ended in the 1960s. The absence of a target for discrimination would alleviate the Dominican Republic’s short-term bureaucratic problems but would not change domestic discriminatory attitudes in any way. It also would not provide a sustainable long-term solution for the Dominican Republic’s institutional troubles.
Denying responsibility for this immigrant-descended group of people is an unproductive solution for the inefficacy of institutions. The Dominican state has been struggling to absorb the influx of unskilled and uneducated immigrants and provide them and their children with services and proper living conditions. Despite the challenges of the situation, eliminating a group of people from a country’s population is in no way a humanitarian or sustainable solution. In the long term, the Dominican Republic, like all other countries, needs to improve its institutions and use the influx of immigrants to its advantage in order to accumulate human capital.
Institutional strengthening is, of course, easier said than done, and pointing out the need for it as an outsider simplifies the countless complexities of the Dominican Republic’s situation. However, if every country facing a similar influx of unskilled immigration were to take similar measures, the world would be walking backwards. Countries need to work toward institutional improvement and the accumulation of human capital rather than toward easy solutions such as state-sponsored discrimination.