In 2012, Victor Angel Oquel Depen received a full scholarship to attend university to study agronomy. He hoped that having a degree would help him and his family access more opportunities outside the menial agricultural work that defines life in his community.
“I was really excited to move forward, get an education, and look for work that could help bring in more money,” says Depen, a father of six children. The forty-year-old lives in a batey — a sugar workers’ town — near the city of Tamayo in the southern Baoruco province of the Dominican Republic, close to the country’s border with Haiti.
The some five hundred bateyes in the country were built by sugar companies as temporary accommodations to house Haitian laborers. Known as braceros, these laborers arrived in the country over the last century to harvest sugar cane. They were promised fair wages, adequate housing, and pensions. Many, however, faced rampant abuse and were forced to work in abysmal conditions for little pay.
Over the years, the viejos — the permanently employed cane workers living on the bateyes — had children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. These temporary communities became permanent residences with the worst living conditions in the Dominican Republic. They lack access to clean water, electricity, and adequate housing.
Depen’s neighborhood of Batey Cuatro is largely populated by Dominicans of Haitian descent. These Dominican-born descendants of Haitian immigrants all have the constitutional right to Dominican citizenship based on the country’s policy of jus soli, or birthright citizenship.
But in September 2013, Depen, along with thousands of other Dominicans of Haitian descent, had his life thrown into chaotic uncertainty when the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court ruled to strip citizenship from about two hundred thousand Dominicans of Haitian descent. Known as La Sentencia, or “the sentence,” it was yet another instance of a decade-long process of eroding the citizenship rights of Haitian Dominicans.
To his dismay, Depen’s citizenship was revoked and as a result his full scholarship was canceled. “Overnight, I lost all my rights,” says Depen, sitting at his living room table and slowly shaking his head indignantly. “It felt like my entire life was ripped out from underneath me.”
Eight months after the Constitutional Court’s ruling, following a national and international outcry, the Dominican government enacted the 2014 Naturalization Law 169-14. The law was touted as a resolution to the turmoil that followed La Sentencia, the casualties of which have since become known as los afectados, “the affected.”
Tens of thousands of Haitian Dominicans remain stateless. Rights groups allege a complete failure of the 169-14 law to ensure the restoration of los afectados’ citizenship rights. Instead, observers fear that the law has enshrined statelessness for many, while relegating others to a form of second-class citizenship.
Say “Perejil” or Die
There is a long history of anti-Haitian discrimination in the Dominican Republic. Starting in 1791, the enslaved Africans on the western side of Hispaniola — the island that both countries share, then a French colony called St Dominique — led a decade-long slave revolt which culminated in the defeat of the French army and a declaration of independence. Haiti, which is the indigenous Taíno-Arawak name for the island of Hispaniola, became the world’s first independent Black republic in 1804.
In 1822, the whole of Hispaniola was unified under Haitian rule for two decades. At that time, Haiti’s population was at least eight times larger than the Spanish-speaking eastern side of the island. But discontent with Haitian rule sparked a rebellion against Port-au-Prince, which led in 1844 to the independence of the Dominican Republic.
Haiti unsuccessfully attempted to invade and occupy the newly created Dominican Republic, which they feared would be used as a staging ground for invasions into Haiti by the slave-holding United States and other colonial powers. Many Dominicans, responding to nationalist propaganda, still fear the reunification of Hispaniola under Haitian rule.
In the late nineteenth century, there was a boom in the Caribbean sugar industry. However, the Dominican Republic, which was rural and sparsely populated at the time, did not have sufficient labor resources, forcing the burgeoning sugar industry to rely heavily on foreign workers.
From 1916 to 1924, the United States, which was still practicing Jim Crow racial segregation at home, occupied both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The US-led government in the Dominican Republic issued executive orders to force Haitian labor into harvesting sugarcane. Over the next several decades, according to Trenita Brookshire Childers, author of In Someone Else’s Country: Anti-Haitian Racism and Citizenship in the Dominican Republic, Haitian presence in the country was “increasingly linked to agricultural labor.”
“The Dominican sugar industry needed the cheap, exploitable labor of Haitian migrant workers, but the government rejected their social integration,” Childers tells me. Despite this racialized labor system, the border between the two countries remained porous, and Dominicans and Haitians generally co-existed in peace, often farming together and intermarrying.
This all changed when the violent dictator Rafael Trujillo took control of the Dominican Republic from 1930 until 1961. In 1937, Trujillo ordered the Dominican army to kill Haitians in the border areas who could not produce proof of their Dominican status, even though many Dominicans did not possess these documents.
As a result, Dominicans of Haitian descent, and possibly Afro-Dominicans, were massacred. The soldiers resorted to identifying Haitians by their skin color and accents, demanding they pronounce the Spanish word for parsley, “perejil.” If they could perfectly pronounce the rolled Spanish “r,” which is difficult for Creole speakers, their lives would be spared. If they could not, they would be murdered.
The army was instructed not to use guns in the massacre, and instead relied largely on machetes to make it look like Dominican farmers had turned on their Haitian neighbors. Many, including Dominicans of Haitian descent who had never been to Haiti, fled across the border, never to return. Others found refuge with their Dominican neighbors who hid them in their homes. Estimates of the number killed in the massacre, which is known locally as el corte, or “the cutting,” vary widely, from as few as a thousand to as many as thirty thousand.
The order for the massacre, however, excluded the workers living in the bateyes. Cane cutters on the sugar estates, which at that time were mostly owned by US companies, were spared. The overall message was clear for anyone of Haitian descent: stay in the bateyes or face state-sanctioned violence.
Sugar Mill Passports
This brutal ethnic cleansing campaign was part of a new government policy, which the Trujillo regime referred to as the “Dominicanization” of the frontier. The regime’s policy “formed part of a racist ideology, which the dictatorship put forward after the massacre,” says Bridget Wooding, a migration expert and coordinator of the Santo Domingo–based think tank Caribbean Migration and Development Observatory (OBMICA). This ideology relied heavily on building in-group national cohesion by concocting negative associations with African ancestry. Antihaitianismo, or anti-Haitianism, became the core of the Dominican identity.
Trujillo invented a new racial category for Dominicans, indios, which appeared on government-issued ID cards until 2011. Dominican history textbooks often portrayed Haitians as the “eternal enemies” of the Dominican people. According to Ernesto Sagás, a professor of ethnic studies at Colorado State University, Haitians were depicted as “barbaric savages, the incarnation of cruelty whose only objective was to destroy Hispanic culture in the Dominican Republic.”
Laws were passed after the massacre that attempted to keep Haitian immigration contained within the sugarcane plantations. Place names along the border were changed from Creole to Spanish and the practice of Vodou was outlawed, punishable by up to two years of imprisonment or deportation.
Decades later, the soldiers wielding machetes who stopped black people on the street and forced them to pronounce perejil to determine whether they should live or die, have been replaced with officers from the Junta Central Electoral (JCE). It is these officials from the the Dominican Republic’s central electoral committee who now determine whether or not the descendants of the el corte massacre should receive their citizenship rights.
The JCE is the sole entity responsible for the issuing of birth certificates, which is provided after presenting a certificate of live birth, and cédulas — a plastic personal identification card provided to adults after the presentation of their birth certificates. Dominicans of Haitian descent have historically faced discrimination when accessing their national identity documents.
These documents are needed to engage in all civil transactions in the Dominican Republic, such as cashing a check, opening a bank account, signing an employment contract, going to university, accessing health care, getting married, or voting. For Dominicans of Haitian descent, who have no other nationality, these documents are also needed to avoid being deported to Haiti — a country to which most of them have never been.
For parents to obtain a birth certificate for their child, they must present the child’s certificate of live birth, along with their own personal identification document, to JCE officials. But families of Haitian descent have historically been denied certificates of live births at Dominican hospitals, while others live in rural areas and do not have access to maternity wards.
Scores of braceros working on the sugarcane plantations without valid documentation first arrived in the country with the help of buscones, or human smugglers who supply workers for the Dominican economy. Others have had their documents stolen once they crossed the border.
The sugar companies, largely reliant on the easily exploitable labor of undocumented Haitian migrants, had little interest in facilitating official status in the country. This means that people of Haitian descent are historically much less likely to have the personal identification documents needed to register their children’s births.
In those cases where documents were made available for Haitian workers, the permits were often issued to the sugar mills and not to the individual workers. Childers notes that this gave sugar companies “complete control over Haitian workers’ movement within the Dominican Republic.” For decades, the sugar mills issued Haitian workers a ficha — a temporary work document provided by a Dominican employer, usually a sugar mill. Many Haitian migrants lawfully registered their children’s births using a ficha provided to them by the sugar companies.
In the late 1980s, the state-owned sugarcane industry collapsed and never recovered. Haitian immigrants moved into “practically every niche of the Dominican economy,” Wooding tells me, such as the construction, service, and tourism sectors. Dominican-born descendants who were able to acquire their national identity documents began attending university and finding work outside the low wages of the sugarcane and agricultural plantations.
The visibility of people of Haitian descent in Dominican society, outside the bateyes, caused a backlash. “They wanted us to come and cut their sugarcane,” explains Alfredo Oguisten, cofounder of Reconoci.do, a movement of Dominicans of Haitian descent formed to demand nationality rights. “They never wanted or expected us to be equal citizens in their country.”
Mass deportation campaigns in 1991, 1999, and 2000 expelled tens of thousands of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent from the country. Immigration officials rounded up anyone “Haitian-looking” outside the bateyes and transported them to the Haitian border, Childers says.
In the 1990s, the JCE also began refusing to release birth certificates to Dominicans of Haitian descent. At the same time, anyone who did not hold Dominican cédulas, had a Haitian-sounding last name, or were simply black and spoke Spanish with an accent, found that their children were denied birth certificates.
Juliana Deguis Pierre, a then twenty-four-year-old Dominican of Haitian descent whose parents immigrated to the country to work on the sugarcane plantations decades ago, was denied a cédula by the JCE and told her birth certificate was invalid. She decided to take legal action, accusing the JCE of discrimination. Her case resulted in La Sentencia, which officially stripped citizenship of anyone born in the Dominican Republic to parents without legal residence dating back to 1929.
But La Sentencia was merely the tip of the iceberg. It is part of a much broader process of systematically stripping Dominicans of Haitian descent of their rights and making them stateless, the impact and scope of which are still not fully understood.
Almost ten years before La Sentencia, the government began redefining citizenship rights by stipulating that Dominican-born children could only be eligible for citizenship if at least one of their parents could prove legal residence, regardless of how long they have lived in the country. In 2007, the JCE created a foreign registry, known as the “Book of Foreigners,” to register children whose parents could not prove legal residence. In 2010, a new Dominican constitution incorporated this distinction of birthright citizenship.
According to Beneco Enecia, director of the Center for Sustainable Development (CEDESO), the children of people of Haitian descent were frequently registered in the “Book of Foreigners,” without the parents’ knowledge, even if one or both parents had Dominican documents. This was especially the case when the mother was of Haitian descent, Enecia says.
Once someone is registered in the “Book of Foreigners,” they are not eligible for citizenship. Consequently, scores of Dominicans of Haitian descent were deprived of their citizenship rights solely due to anti-Haitian discrimination.
A child will not realize that they were stripped of their rights and made stateless until many years later when they attempt to get access to a birth certificate. “At this point of registering someone’s birth, everyone is at the mercy of the people behind the counter,” Childers tells me. “In just one stroke of a pen someone can be placed in a foreign category and this will affect them for the rest of their lives and will go on to affect their children’s lives.”
The JCE has also launched an audit of civil records to identify Dominicans of Haitian descent who already had their cédulas, but whose parents were suspected of not having valid proof of legal residence. Oftentimes birth certificates are written in pen and contain anomalies, such as spelling errors. It is also common for other people’s birth certificates to be used to register births. These errors can invalidate documents of residence.
“These kinds of things are common among all Dominicans,” Enecia explains. “For instance, if someone is a teenager and gets pregnant, oftentimes their aunt or a family friend will register the child’s birth if the mother doesn’t have her documents. All Dominicans were doing this with the support of JCE officials. But now you have [JCE officials] claiming these documents are invalid when it comes to people of Haitian descent, when it’s something Dominicans do all the time.”
Wooding tells me that Dominicans of Haitian descent are forced to go through “bureaucratic torture” when they need their birth certificate to conduct a civil transaction. They are often told they need to prove their parents’ documents were valid when their births were registered. People do not realize that they have been denationalized until they need to access their birth certificates or try to engage in a civil transaction only to realize that their cédulas were no longer active.
Meanwhile, during the audits of civil records, JCE officials used the ficha — with which Haitian migrants had lawfully registered their children for decades — to identify children and adults who were born to migrant workers with unauthorized legal status. Citizenship was subsequently suspended.
“It was very obvious that there was a particular group being targeted here,” Wooding tells me, adding that in one case a circular was found at a JCE office with “HH” annotated on it. HH stands for Hijos de Haitianos, or “children of Haitians,” shorthand used to alert JCE officials to look for Haitian-sounding names.
“They [the JCE] are trying to dissuade people from acquiring their rights and trying to wear people down by attrition and make it seem like it has never been their right to be Dominican,” Wooding adds. “It’s a form of psychological warfare.”
Law 169-14, which was introduced in 2014 following public outcry in response to La Sentencia, separated los afectados into two groups. Group A consists of Dominicans of Haitian descent who had their citizenship stripped. Group B includes Dominican-born individuals who had the right to citizenship but had not been able to register their births in the civil registry.
To make matters more convoluted, in December 2013, shortly after La Sentencia, the Dominican Republic established the National Regularization Plan for Foreigners with an Irregular Migration Status (PNRE). This program was ostensibly going to provide immigrants a more stable legal status in the country. Many applicants believed they would receive residence permits.
But of the hundreds of thousands who registered, almost all of whom were of Haitian descent, many were left with a “temporary and unstable legal status,” according to Childers. Since they now only have temporary status in the country, their Dominican-born children will not be eligible for citizenship.
“It’s a clear policy of ethnic cleansing,” Enecia tells me, explaining that La Sentencia works in tandem with the denial of citizenship to the children of Haitian immigrants. It is the Dominican government’s latest attempt at eradicating anyone of Haitian descent from the Dominican population.
Law 169-14 was meant to restore the citizenship of los afectados in Group A whose birth certificates could be verified. Those in Group B, however, whose births were never registered, would be forced to endure statelessness. They had to declare themselves Haitian nationals, despite being born and raised in the Dominican Republic. They could then register in the PNRE and obtain residence permits with an option of completing an undefined naturalization process two years later.
These three simultaneous processes have caused all people of Haitian descent, whether they are a recent immigrant or a Dominican citizen, to be “lumped together” in the Dominican national discourse. “In local news reports and in government offices, people are conflating distinct groups with distinct needs,” Childers explains. “This conflation, sometimes intentional, reinforces the political narrative that all people of Haitian descent are foreigners, no matter where they were born.”
Seven years after the introduction of Law 169-14, less than half of los afectados from Group A have had their documents restored. Meanwhile, no members of Group B have been fully naturalized. As of May, 799 individuals from Group B were granted naturalization through presidential decrees, but they have still not received documents proving this naturalization.
There are also scores of Dominicans of Haitian descent who were eligible for Law 169-14, but did not apply, fearing it was a government setup for mass deportations. Many others were unable to submit the required documents during the 180-day window for applying. Still others were frustrated by financial restraints or the travel requirements — none of the JCE offices are located in bateyes. Some did not apply simply because they saw themselves as Dominicans and would not accept being registered as a foreigner. For this last group, which likely comprises tens of thousands of people, there is no avenue for accessing Dominican nationality, according to Andrea Mucino-Sanchez, a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson.
The process of applying to Law 169-14 was also “nearly impossible for the common person on the street,” Wooding says. There is no way that anyone “could find their way around this legal labyrinth without the support of paralegals, intermediary organizations, or lawyers,” she adds. “It’s not normal to have a process that is so difficult to access that you can’t do it without legal support.” For those whose children’s births were erroneously registered in the “Book of Foreigners,” it may take years before families even discover their children were cheated out of citizenship and made stateless.
A Separate Class of Citizens
Following the application of Law 169-14, Depen, as part of Group A, had his citizenship restored in 2015. However in 2016, when Depen went to vote, he was informed that his cédula was once again disabled. His sixty-one-year-old mother, Degracia Depen Jofef, was told the same.
JCE officials informed Depen and his mother that their birth certificates were invalid, claiming that Depen’s deceased grandfather, who was born in the Dominican Republic, acquired Jofef’s birth certificate through an invalid document. Like scores of Dominicans of Haitian descent, when Jofef’s documents came under scrutiny, it created a domino effect of statelessness for her descendants.
“I’ve had citizenship since I was born. I don’t even know when my family came here from Haiti,” Jofef tells me. “How can the government issue you an ID with a document that is invalid? I have this cédula so that means I was registered with a document that was considered valid.”
The JCE often does not explain or offer adequate information to those whose documents are under review. Jofef says she is the only one among her siblings who is facing issues with her citizenship. Of Jofef’s twelve children, only three, including Depen, have had their cédulas disabled. Enecia observes that these types of inconsistencies reveal the “arbitrariness” of the JCE’s process. A family of Haitian descent can have members in Group A, Group B, and be registered in the “Book of Foreigners.”
Depen and his mother should have their documents restored. But they continue to be denied their rights. They say they do not know how to rectify their situation and have given at least $875 to unscrupulous individuals promising to help them solve their predicament, to no avail. “We’re still fighting, but we feel stuck,” Depen says. “It’s a terrible feeling. I feel nervous and anxious all the time. I can’t sleep. I’m trying to maintain hope but we’re not sure what to do.”
Depen was also fired from his job as a driver, transporting sugarcane for a private company, after his boss discovered he was having difficulty with his citizenship documents. He has not been able to work since. He and his mother have stopped venturing outside their communities, worried they will be stopped by police and deported.
“We were born in this country, but they don’t want us here,” Jofef says, slowly taking a seat on a wooden chair across from her son, holding her now disabled cédula in her hands. “It doesn’t leave any physical bruising, but what the government is doing to us feels like violence. I’m a citizen in this country, and now I’m not even allowed to vote. And it’s all because our government doesn’t like Haitian people.”
The JCE has also begun to transcribe some of these birth certificates and transfer them to a separate registry called the “Transcription Book.” According to human rights groups, the transcribed birth certificates have different registration numbers than the originals.
Oguisten, who had his citizenship suspended for several years, says he has always been able to go to any JCE office in the country and access his birth certificate. But when he recently went to request his certificate from a JCE office in Santo Domingo, where he resides, his request was denied.
“They told me I could not access my document there, and because I was in a separate registrar, I can only access my birth certificate in my hometown. I asked them why, and they told me because my parents are Haitian,” Oguisten explains. “Now we’re a separate class of citizens. It’s like they’re labeling us as a different type of Dominican.” For a population who has been the target of violent ethnic cleansing and mass deportations in the past, a separate registry for Dominicans of Haitian descent is cause for deep anxiety and profound concern.
No Papers, No Future
Twenty-three-year-old Robinson Pierre has spent most of his life without access to documents. Born in the Dominican Republic, his birth was registered by his father, who had a Dominican cédula. His mother, forty-nine-year-old Juliana, migrated from Haiti with her father in 1993, and was undocumented at the time of Pierre’s birth.
Juliana had attempted to access Pierre’s birth certificate since he was a teenager, but the JCE continuously denied her request, claiming there were issues with Pierre’s registration. Pierre’s father left the family when Pierre was just six-years-old and he therefore does not have a way to resolve the dilemma. As a result, Pierre was not able to attend university or access jobs outside the agricultural fields.
“We feel a lot of discrimination here,” Pierre tells me from his home in Batey Nuevo, also near the city of Tamayo. “It’s very frustrating. I’m born here. I studied here. All my culture is from the Dominican Republic. But yet someone could just come and send you to Haiti. It’s something unimaginable because I’ve never been to Haiti.”
Although Pierre’s birth was registered, he panicked in 2014 — fearing the unfathomable reality of being deported to Haiti, a country he has never visited — and opted to declare himself a Haitian national and apply as part of Group B in Law 169-14. It took the Dominican government more than two years to begin responding to peoples’ requests for residency, says Enecia. Today, only about four thousand people, approximately half of the applicants, have been granted residence permits.
Pierre received his residence permit in November of last year, along with a cédula, with No Vota, “don’t vote,” printed on it. His nationality on both IDs reads “Haiti.” His cédula already expired in March and his residency permit is set to expire next year. It costs $70 to renew his cédula and $123 to renew his residence permit. For every month he is late renewing each ID, he has to pay an additional $18.
Pierre, who just started university and who does agricultural work, does not have the resources to pay for the renewal of his IDs. Now officially registered in the system as a Haitian national, once his IDs expire, he will have the same legal standing as an immigrant from Haiti who has overstayed their visa.
According to Enecia, the Dominican government has stopped renewing residence permits for Group B. This will throw thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent into a further state of uncertainty. In fact, it may make their situations even worse than they were before the introduction of Law 169-14.
“The Dominican government says things and then it doesn’t do them,” Pierre says. A group of young men walk past, Pierre pauses and greets them. Down the street from Pierre’s home is a small Vodou temple, nearby a modest cement church, exhibiting the unique blend of cultures that has developed on the bateyes over the years.
“I’m always nervous about my situation in this country,” he adds. “I feel unsafe. Any day the government could just change their policies and decide to expel all of us. I’m always scared.”
“People here always make us feel like we’re not actually from here,” he continues. “Both directly and indirectly you’re always told you’re Haitian. It’s like we are in this country, but none of the roads are built for us. People here treat us like how people treat animals on their farms. That’s how we are seen in this country.”
But Pierre tells me how much having access to an ID has helped him — despite his uncertain future status. “I’m in university now, studying French and English. I’m allowed to work in other jobs outside agriculture. But I feel like because I’ve had so many issues with my documents, my life was frozen for so long. My life was really held back and delayed.”
“Even starting a family, I can’t even think about that,” Pierre says. “If I had children my problems would multiply. I need to figure out my documentation problems before I can even think about moving on with my life or starting a family.”
Escaping the Immigration Officers
Mary Lendon has been attempting to get her birth certificate from the JCE for more than seven years. For the thirty-eight years she has been alive, the mother of six children has not experienced a single day that she has been able to walk outside her home in Los Blocks de Mena — a batey in the Baoruco region — without fearing deportation.
Lendon’s family has lived in the Dominican Republic for at least three generations. Lendon’s mother, undocumented at the time of her birth, was unable to register her. Her mother later received her cédula and tried to register Lendon and her eight other siblings. Lendon’s siblings, who her mother registered before her, were able to access their birth certificates and claim their citizenship rights. But the JCE has refused to issue a birth certificate to Lendon.
“It’s defined my whole life,” Lendon tells me, standing beside her home constructed from wood and tin sheets while her children laugh and play, kicking up dust as they run around. “I can’t go to school. I can’t get a job. I can’t go anywhere. I can’t do anything.” Only two of her six children, aged eight to twenty-three, were able to get a birth certificate through their father, who has a Dominican cédula. The other four, who have a different father, do not have birth certificates because Lendon is unable to register them.
For the same economic reasons that Trujillo’s soldiers spared the bateyes in 1937, immigration officials usually do not conduct raids in the bateyes and only patrol outside the communities. But Los Blocks de Mena is an exception. According to Enecia, this could be due to Dominican nationalists living nearby, whose presence often means increased surveillance for people of Haitian descent.
“They come around 3 or 4 in the morning,” Lendon says. “They come with a big stick and slam on the door. If you don’t open it, they will break it open. Sometimes they come and randomly check peoples’ documents and sometimes they target specific houses.” During the raids, residents who see the officials enter the community will scream, inmigración! Others who hear the screams will repeat the warning until everyone in the batey is aware that immigration officials have arrived.
“When I hear this, I take my children and run as fast I can to the mountains to hide,” Lendon explains, swinging her arms back and forth to recreate a running motion. “It makes me feel bad because I was born here and generations before me were born here and somehow I’m not considered a citizen. But I guess this is just how life is.” She laughs softly and shrugs her shoulders.
Lendon did not apply to Law 169-14 because she did not feel comfortable registering as a foreigner. Lendon, along with most of her children, is stuck in a situation of intergenerational statelessness with no clear means of escape.
The children of los afectados are now inheriting the stateless status of their parents. This is what keeps Graciela Canario Perez awake at night, tossing and turning. The thirty-year-old discovered her citizenship was disabled in 2012, when she attempted to submit documents to attend university.
JCE officials say that her father’s birth certificate was invalid, owing to an issue with the grandfather’s document, when he registered her birth. Perez’s father is arrayano, or a mix of Dominican and Haitian ancestry. Dominican nationalists believe that Haitians were never meant to leave the bateyes, never mind marry Dominicans.
Perez was planning to study education and then continue on to medical school to become a pediatrician. “But now I can’t do anything,” she says, sitting on a chair erected outside a colmado, or local convenience store, in her community of Batey Siete. Perez, a mother of six children, from ages two to eleven, hasn’t been able to work since her contract as an assistant teacher with a government adult education program expired in 2016.
Scores of children of mixed couples — whether ethnically mixed or with mixed legal statuses — have been denied their rights and left stateless. There have been at least twenty-five thousand cases of ethnically mixed couples not being able to register their children’s births, Wooding explains.
Depen says his wife, who is of Haitian ancestry, has not been able to get a birth certificate for their one-year-old child, despite her Dominican citizenship. According to Depen, the JCE officials tell her that because she is married she cannot register the child alone and the father must also present a form of identification.
Unless Depen and Perez can resolve their status in the country, statelessness will likely be the reality for their future generations. For the children of someone like Lendon, who did not apply to Law 169-14, the threat of perpetual statelessness will likely plague her family for many generations.
“It’s hard for me to sleep,” Perez says, brushing away tears. “I’m thinking about my children constantly. I want them to be able to study and have a future in their own country. I’m scared not just for my children, but their children’s children.”
“I try not to think about all of this,” she adds. “I feel suffocated by this bureaucracy. It feels like I’ve been set up to fail. It’s all so complicated and the system doesn’t see you as a human being. I just cry and pray to God to help me.”
Tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent are now relegated to the same marginalized status as their ancestors who came to work in the sugarcane plantations decades ago. Pushed into the bateyes, they are scared to leave, fearing that their black skin makes them a target and they will be deported to Haiti — a country they do not know. Without access to their documents, they have no other choice but to work in the low-paying jobs in the sugarcane or agricultural fields.
“It’s a dream for us when we’re growing up in the bateyes to work hard and get more opportunities,” Oguisten says. “And we work really hard to get a better life. And right when we get more opportunities, all of it is ripped away from us and then ripped away from our children too. They are holding us back and not allowing us to improve ourselves.”
“The bateyes were created to make sure Haitians were separated from Dominicans,” he adds. “And without documentation you’re not able to go anywhere. You’re once again condemned to the bateyes. It’s just not fair. Not only are we citizens, we’re also human beings. And the government stripped us of our humanity.”
Last year, Luis Abinader, of the opposition Modern Revolutionary Party (PRM),was elected president, ending a sixteen-year hold on power by the center-left Dominican Liberation Party (PLD). Dominicans of Haitian descent had hoped the administration would take decisive steps to resolve the stateless crisis in the Dominican Republic, the single largest case of statelessness in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Oguisten, for one, has been disappointed. Abinader has continued deporting thousands of Haitian migrants from the country — and most likely Dominicans of Haitian descent. He has also begun constructing a border wall between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
According to Childers, the current stateless crisis in the country boils down to a simple historical fact: “Haitians were never supposed to be incorporated into the Dominican society. They were meant to come over, do their agricultural work, and stay separate.”
“Their children were never supposed to be part of society either,” she adds. “Now you have second and third generations experiencing statelessness and it pushes them back into the shadows. The state is telling these new generations: ‘stay in your place.’”
Dominicans of Haitian descent are no longer taking this lying down. They are fighting back. They are organizing protests and demanding a resolution to statelessness in a way their ancestors never could have imagined. “Soy Dominicano y tengo derecho,” meaning “I am Dominican and I have rights,” has become a popular slogan among los afectados and is often written on placards and shouted during protests.
“It used to be unthinkable to go out into the streets and demand our rights,” Oguisten says. “We weren’t able to do that before. Our ancestors could never dream of coming from the bateyes to organize a protest in Santo Domingo.”
“This is all about keeping us under their control and trying to stop us from moving up socially in this country,” he continues. “They don’t want to see a guy who looks like me become president. That’s the ultimate nightmare for nationalists. So they pass these policies to try and keep us down.”
“But if the Dominican Republic wants to progress as a democratic country, it has to recognize us because we’re not going anywhere. No matter what, we’re going to continue to live here, die here, and be born here. So they need to get used to it.”