Negro como yo (Black like me): Dominican Citizenship and Haitian Migration

The Dominican Republic’s granting of citizenship to children born to Haitian migrants is a small step, but still a long road to real change.

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Yesterday, the Dominican government has finally passed a law, which allows children of immigrants born in the island to have automatic Dominican citizenship through the right of juris solis (citizenship by birth). 

For years, the Dominican government has been trying to deny countless numbers of children born to Haitian migrant workers in the country the right to citizenship. In extreme cases, such as those migrant families working in bateys (sugar cane plantations), birth certificates have  been denied to these children and without this vital piece of documentation, it has even been impossible for these families to register their births with the Haitian Embassy in Santo Domingo, the nation’s capital. As such, these children have been rendered stateless – ghosts and non-existent to the eyes of the international community and thus susceptible to all kinds of abuses.

The Dominican refusal of granting migrant children citizenship has nothing to do with the “fear of job loss to immigrants” or “xenophobia towards all migrants in general” as is the case with the Italian government’s refusal in accepting juris solis as a means of Italian citizenship; this refusal stems from centuries of animosity and fear which Dominicans have towards the Haitians.

The Dominican Republic is the one of the few nations in Latin America who didn’t fight an initial war of independence against Spain– but instead against Haiti. After the Haitian Revolution and with Haitian troops feeling invincible, heading to the border to conquer what was then Spanish Hispaniola, the Spanish simply left the island to the Haitians without a fight as they were too preoccupied with the wars going on in their own country (the Peninsular Wars).


As a result, the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo (Spain’s first colony in the new world) became Saint-Domingue and for nearly 26 years, Port-au-Prince ruled the Dominican people.

Dominicans are proud to note their key differences form the Haitians and namely that:

-         Haitians speak French while Dominicans speak Spanish.

-         Haitians practice Voodoo alongside Roman Catholicism while Dominicans proclaim themselves to be 1,000% purely Catholic.

-         Haitians are of predomiante African origin while Dominicans are of Spanish descent or mulatto (Spanish and African mix).

It was the last of the three points mentioned which was the main Dominican refusal to accept Haiti during its rule of the Dominican Republic – race. Dominicans to this day refer to Spain as “La Madre Patria” (The Motherland) and Spanish flags are raised alongside Dominican flags throughout the country. To many Dominicans, being Dominican also means being Spanish, as ex-Dominican dictator Rafael Leonidas Trujillo was keen to point out the “Hispanidad” (Spanishness) of the Dominican Republic during his tyranny from the 1930’s to 1960’s.

Dominicans fought a war of independence against Haiti in efforts to rid themselves of the “blackness” they felt would destroy their cultural and racial ties to Spain and though this was finally achieved on 27 February 1844, it can be said that the Dominican Republic is still fighting an invisible war against Haiti.

Today, Haiti is nowhere near to what it once was when it took over the Dominican Republic in the 1820’s. At the time, it was the richest colony in the world and had produced France a wealth of income thanks to its sugar production. Now, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, crippled by a “debt” it was forced to pay back to France after the revolution, a variety of natural disasters, poor political leadership, and foreign aid which has proved to be more harmful to Haitian sustainability than helpful. With such chaos, Haitians turn to the Dominican Republic, who’s economy has been growing and improving, as a land of temporary milk and honey (most Haitians view Miami and the rest of the United States as their ultimate goal towards migration).

Dominicans, on the other hand, see Haitian migration to the west as a threat and a final attempt of the Haitian government in trying to reclaim the island for themselves once more and they feel that it is up to them to stop it.

The Dominican police are key players in this and are brutal – they attack anyone suspected of being or even looking Haitian with inhumane abuses and even conduct forced deportations. At times, this has even resulted in the deportation of actual black Dominicans to Haiti, despite having no origin in Haiti and possessing a Dominican passport and ID card (which is destroyed to avoid testifying in court against them).

The Dominican Government itself hasn’t been very responsive to the numerous accusations of both the United Nations and Amnesty International on the mistreatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.

As a Dominican, it is time that we recognize the injustice, which the country is committing, against our very neighbors. It is time that we standup to face the facts that Haitians are not a threat to the island but our own racism and ignorance which goes against the very Catholic ideals which we believe that we highly observe. It is time that we acknowledge that ALL DOMINICANS, INCLUDING MYSELF, HAVE AFRICAN HERITAGE IN US and not to segregate the Haitians from ourselves just because we only have a portion of Africa in us while they have their roots entirely there.

Both Haitians and Dominicans share a history and an island and it is time that both countries see themselves as brother and sister and not as enemies. Only in acknowledging such can Dominicans and Haitians begin to work together to reduce the poverty that is strife in both nations and ensure sustainable growth so that working together is seen as a benefit and not as a threat.

This bill is a small step towards that but there is still a long, long way to go.

Related Links:

The Dominican State has unanimously granted citizenship to all children of migrants born in the country. The BBC goes into more detail regarding this new development and you can click here to read more.

Shades of the Border is a brilliant short-documentary which takes a more in-depth view on the current issue between Haiti and the Dominican Republic in regards to human rights abuses and Haitian migration to the island.

Black in Latin America presents an episode on the history of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, highlighting the animosity between the two nations, including both nations’ shared African heritage. Although the documentary presents a good overview of historical ties, I find that the presenter is a bit biased in regards to presenting Dominican history in a more African context in lieu of it’s truly tri-cultural origin (Spanish, Taino, and African).

Erased in the Dominican Republic is a thorough presentation on the state of migrant children in the Dominican Republic who are classified as "international bastards" in the eyes of the international community. Neither Dominican nor Haitian, they are ghosts within an unfair system of racism and abuse.

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