Howard Law Professor and Students Discuss Denationalization of Black Dominicans of Haitian Descent with Dominican Republic President and Officials

(Pictured from Left to Right:) Reuben Maldonado Diaz (Minister of the Presidency and Foreign Affairs, Dominican Republic), Kenny Arciniegas-Jeffries (Wife of Congressman Hakeem Jeffries), Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D-NY 9th District), Robert E. Copley (Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Embassy - Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic), President Danilo Medina, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY 8th District), Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett (USVI), Miguel Vargas (Minister of the Presidency and Foreign Affairs), Sally Yearwood (Executive Director – Caribbean Central American Action), John Woods (Howard Law School)

Professor John L. Woods Jr, Co-Director of Howard University School of Law’s Alternative Dispute Resolution program facilitated a Fact-Finding Mission to the Dominican Republic from July 30 – August 2, 2018 to assess the issue of denationalization concerning Black Dominicans of Haitian descent.  The delegation consisted of Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (NY), Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (NY), Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett (VI), and Sally Yearwood, Executive Director of Caribbean Central American Action.  This mission was in response to Professor Woods’ two-year investigation concerning this matter. His investigative team included Howard Law Students Mary Olorunsogo, Marymagdaline Mouton, Diamond Thomas, Eniola Olasupo, and Korey Turner who spent six weeks in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic investigating this issue.

The scope of the delegation’s visit was wide ranging and included meetings with Black Dominicans of Haitian descent (the denationalized population), President Medina and his administration; Representatives of the Congress of the Dominican Republic and the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Ruben Maldonado; Chief Justice Milton Ray Guevara and the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Tribunal; the U.S. and international diplomatic communities; civil society and grassroots organizations; as well as the business community.

Diplomatic Tone – Discussions Concerning the Retroactive Effect of Ruling 168/13

The tone of the visit was diplomatic. According to Woods, “The delegation was truly concerned with understanding the complexities surrounding this issue. Therefore, they assumed the posture of fact-finders.  It was a listening campaign coupled with tough dialogue to fully understand and convey their understandings of the systemic impact of Constitutional Tribunal Ruling 168/13.  The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in 2014, has already determined that this ruling was in violation of human rights law in that it, as applied retroactively to 1929, effectively stripped hundreds of thousands of Black Dominican’s of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic to undocumented Haitian migrants of their Dominican citizenship. As such, the delegation was not consumed with relitigating this issue.  The objective was to explore pathways to effectively remedy the issue of denationalization and citizenship.”                                                 


A Dominican Citizenship, not a Haitian Immigration Issue – Correlations to Issues Concerning Citizenship in the US

The delegation persistently conveyed, during its visit, that its fact-finding process solely concerned the “stripping of citizenship” caused by the 2013 ruling. Not immigration issues or the Dominican Republic’s Regularization Plan, a plan designed to document Haitian immigrants.   “When discussing denationalization with Dominican government officials, this issue is typically conflated into a discussion concerning immigration.  As a delegation, we were consistently confronted with the issue of citizenship or denationalization being addressed as an immigration issue.  While recognizing and understanding the legitimate challenges the Dominican Republic is confronted with concerning immigration, the delegation was diligent in distinguishing the two issues, citizenship versus immigration, in its efforts to assess the impact of denationalization concerning Black Dominicans of Haitian descent.  I think this particular issue of citizenship resonates with the delegation because of its impact and similarities to issues they champion at home concerning voting rights and access to education”, Woods said.

Documentation and Operational Defects of Law 169-14 – Creating Alternative Pathways to Reinstatement as Dominican Citizens for Group B Individuals

A consistent theme that developed throughout the delegation’s visit was that Law 169-14, a law designed to assist the denationalized population regain their citizenship, was a political compromise in response to the international outcry concerning Ruling 168/13 and the anti-Haitian sentiments of a small, but powerful sect of Dominican ultranationalist groups.  This law was supposed to provide a pathway for the re- acquisition of nationality for (1) individuals born in the country between 1929 and 2007 whose births had been registered (Group A); and (2) a special registration procedure under which all individuals born in the country whose births were never registered in the Dominican civil registry (Group B) could apply for registration as foreigners and, after two years, for nationality through the country’s naturalization procedure.

However, despite the government’s attempts to reinstate citizenship through Law 169-14, it was reported to the delegation that this plan failed to address historical barriers such as discriminatory practices concerning birth registration and documentation of Black Dominicans of Haitian descent born in the Dominican Republic which has resulted in a significant number of Group B individuals not having the required documentation to re-acquire their citizenship.  This process to prove citizenship through documentation ended in the Summer of 2017.  Consequently, Law 169-14 resulted in a significant number of citizens who have no pathway to re-acquire their Dominican citizenship.  According to Woods, “this was one of the fundamental purposes of the delegation’s visit.  What is the plan going forward for individuals who were born in the Dominican Republic, who do not have the required documentation to prove their citizenship, and who have never been citizens of Haiti?  No viable plan to address this issue seems to be in place.  However, the willingness of President Medina and Dominican Congressional Representatives to meet with the delegation regarding this issue is encouraging.”

The Intersection between the Dominican Republic’s Economic Growth, Denationalization, and a Framework for Resolution

Why does the delegation, or the U.S. for that matter, care about this issue?   Members of the delegation not only represent constituents who are of Haitian-American, Dominican-American, as well as the African and Latin diaspora, but also constituents from the business community who have a vested interest in this issue.  As such, the delegation had extensive conversations with Dominican business and government officials concerning the Dominican Republic’s economic growth, U.S.- Dominican trade relations, and the Dominican Republic’s economic development, diversification efforts.  Woods draws an interesting parallel, “Although the issue of denationalization is a human rights issue, if it persists it will likely emerge as an economic one.  The Dominican Republic’s economy is one of the strongest, emerging economies in the Caribbean region and is inextricably linked to that of the U.S.  Especially in the tourism sector where approximately 40% of its tourists come from the U.S. annually.  Despite the issue of denationalization being initially aligned with the sugar cane industry because Black Dominicans of Haitian descent make up approximately 98% of the labor force in this industry, these individuals now also represent a significant number of the labor force in the tourism and construction sectors.  Two sectors that serve as pillars of the Dominican Republic’s economic growth and stability. Therefore, I personally believe that the economic impact of denationalization, in particular issues concerning labor and regional competition, will ultimately become the focal point of any framework designed to truly and comprehensively resolve this issue.”    

Congressman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY 8th District) states the following concerning the mission and the how the issue of denationalization impacts his Congressional District, “The issue of denationalization of Dominicans of Haitian descent is of great importance to the Haitian-American and Dominican-American communities in Brooklyn and throughout New York City. During our fact-finding mission, we met with individuals impacted by the 2013 Constitutional Court decision, members of civil society and high level officials from the Dominican government, including the President.  These discussions were very informative and provided a variety of perspectives on the current situation and remedial steps that are underway to resolve outstanding citizenship and immigration issues. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues in Congress to positively impact the unresolved issues for Dominicans of Haitian descent and strengthen the important relationship between our two countries.”