An Open Letter to New York’s Governor Cuomo on Dominican Republic Citizenship Problem

Oct 23, 2014
8:27 AM

Dear Governor Cuomo,

As members of the Dominican-American community in New York City, we were appalled that, during a recent trip to the Dominican Republic, you failed to address a grave situation of ongoing human rights violations in the country. Since a ruling issued by the Dominican Constitutional Tribunal last year, the Dominican government has pursued a policy of revoking the right to citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent, rendering them stateless. Your visit to the Dominican Republic was a lost opportunity to call attention to the plight of Dominicans whose human right to citizenship is currently under siege, and to demand the full reconstitution of this essential right as well as a fair and transparent process in doing so.

On September 23, 2013, the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal issued a notorious decision (TC 168-13) that stripped the citizenship of Dominicans born to foreigners “in transit,” that is, immigrants without legal status, of which the vast majority are Haitian. Haitians are present in the country after many generations of state-sanctioned human trafficking into sugar cane and other industries, where often they were given a variety of documents that are now considered invalid. As many as 200,000 Dominicans who descend from these migrant workers have lost their Dominican citizenship. The law retroactively invalidates the Dominican nationality of people born in the country since 1929.

The court decision made official a government policy in effect since 2007 to deny birth certificates and ID cards (cédulas) to people born in Dominican territory, for no other reason than their parents’ immigration status. As a result, Dominicans of Haitian descent were no longer able to attend school past 8th grade, go to college, exercise professions such as law, get married, own property, and register their children when they were born. Their lives were paralyzed.

Throughout your administration, you have been an advocate for the DREAM Act in New York State. You have recognized the injustice of penalizing young Americans who seek an education and a better life, simply because they were brought to the United States as children without legal immigration status, through no fault of their own. An even greater injustice is being perpetrated by the Dominican government, which is retroactively revoking the citizenship of  young Dominicans, born on Dominican soil, for no other reason than the immigration status of their parents. Like DREAMers in the United States, these young Dominicans come from the most vulnerable sectors of society and are unjustly being denied the opportunity to go to school, work, and seek a better life.

The retroactive stripping of citizenship by the Dominican Republic has been condemned as an egregious human rights violation by the UN’s Human Rights Council, the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the United States’ own State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices (2013) and countless human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, as well as prominent figures such as celebrated Dominican-American author Junot Diaz.

As a result of this international pressure, the Dominican government passed a “special law” (Law 169-14) in May of this year that it claimed would solve the problem. Yet, the law suffers from many important deficiencies that have in fact exacerbated the problem.

First, the law only recognizes the Dominican citizenship of a small minority of the estimated quarter of a million Dominicans whose citizenship was revoked by last year’s court decision: those who had already previously been registered in the country’s Civil Registry. In a country in which a large proportion of the population lives in extreme poverty, it is not uncommon for the poorest Dominicans to be unable to afford registration in the Civil Registry. But the Dominican government has now made the situation worse by decreeing that the remaining 200,000 Dominicans – born in Dominican territory during a time when birthright citizenship was the law of the land – whose citizenship was revoked must register in a “book of foreigners.” The Dominican government has retroactively relegated these individuals to a second-class citizenship based on the immigration status of their parents, a present-day apartheid that cannot be tolerated.


Second, the implementation of the law has been rife with problems. The vast majority of Dominicans of Haitian descent continue to encounter difficulty obtaining their identity documents. The government agency charged with implementation of the law has been openly violating the letter of the law, denying these individuals their nationality documents by imposing arbitrary rules not mandated by the law. For example, as many as 13,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent whose nationality documents should be returned automatically have instead been required to submit to interviews not mandated by the law, after which they may be denied the citizenship rights recognized by Law 169-14.

Those Dominican-born individuals whose citizenship is not recognized and must now register as foreigners face an even more dire scenario. The law only granted 90 days to register, and requires a set of documentation that is nearly impossible to obtain during that time period. The government has made the situation even worse by failing to establish mandated documentation centers in nearly half of the country’s provinces. The Jesuit Network of Social Centers in the Dominican Republic, which works directly with the affected population, estimates that a mere 1% of those affected have been able to register under the law. Thus, once the registration period is over, hundreds of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent will face the prospect of denationalization and become vulnerable to the threat of deportation from the country of their birth.

It was therefore a cause for great disappointment that you would not only fail to address a grave human rights violation in the Dominican Republic that denies Dominican citizens born to undocumented immigrant parents the very rights and life chances you purport to defend for the U.S.’s own DREAMers. It is unconscionable that you would commit during your visit to using the New York taxpayer dollars to promote economic cooperation with a government that openly and callously violates the fundamental rights and legalized a racist second-class status for hundreds of thousands of its own citizens.

We urge you to refuse to involve the State of New York in economic development initiatives that promote trade with the Dominican Republic until the Dominican government puts a stop to this egregious human rights violation. Furthermore, as Governor of a state with a large Dominican population, many of which have ties to those affected or have been affected themselves, we urge you to use your favorable relations with Dominican President Danilo Medina and former President Leonel Fernández to advocate on behalf of Dominicans of Haitian descent.

We Are All Dominican