Achy Obejas

writer & translator


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In These Times Column: Citizens of Nowhere

dominicansAbout 200,000 Haitian-Dominicans woke up one morning in September 2012 to find that the Dominican Republic’s Supreme Court of Justice had left their citizenship in doubt. They no longer held valid birth certificates, could no longer practice certain professions (such as law) and no longer had the right to vote. Even cashing a check had become a legal challenge.

The result of the manipulation of existing citizenship laws and the stacking of the Supreme Court by powerful politicians, the court decision broadened the category of non-citizen “persons in transit” to include anyone without documents—no matter if they’ve been in the DR for decades. The redefinition effectively nullifies citizenship, not just for first-generation immigrants, but for the descendants of anyone who arrived in the country after 1929. In practical terms, that overwhelmingly affects Haitian-Dominicans, most of whom know no other country than the DR and no other language but Spanish, and who consider themselves thoroughly Dominican. The history of Haitians in the DR, where about 11 percent of the population is black and 73 percent is mixedrace, has been fraught; a 2007 United Nations report called out the DR for racism and discrimination against its black neighbors and their descendants.

At 1.5 million strong, Dominicans are the fifth-largest Latin American immigrant group in the United States. So one might think that the U.S.—led by its first black president—might have, at the very least, issued a few words of protest.

But the U.S. did not speak up. It wasn’t until mid-December, three months after the decree became law and more than 300 Haitian-Dominicans had been deported in spite of the DR’s assurance that no such actions would be taken, that the U.S. expressed “deep concern” about the situation.

Read the rest…