Church World Service (CWS) has expressed deep concern about a recent decision of the Dominican Republic's Constitutional Court that substantially increases the number of Dominicans of Haitian descent at risk of statelessness and also increases their risk of deportation to Haiti, which has no record of their existence.

The Sept. 26 ruling says that all children born of persons “in transit” in the country since 1929 are not Dominican. The decision erroneously and unlawfully applies the definition of “in transit” to up to four generations of citizens born and raised in the Dominican Republic during the last 85 years.

"Without valid documents, Dominicans are unable to attend school, find work, open bank accounts, get married, travel, or conduct any personal affairs," said Jasmine N. Huggins,
CWS's Washington-based senior policy and advocacy officer.

CWS and its partners have long advocated for citizenship and nationality rights be restituted to several hundred Dominican men and women who have found themselves in legal limbo since 2007.

In October 2011, CWS helped organize and co-hosted an international conference on the issue, held in Washington DC.  In February 2013, CWS supported a Santo Domingo conference on the subject, at which legal and social solutions to the problem were explored.

The ruling ― which cannot be appealed ― instructs the country’s Central Electoral Board to create, within a year, a list of people who were born to persons in transit, as well as a list of persons whose birth registration was obtained using fraudulent or questionable documents.

"If the new law is implemented, names appearing on these lists will be struck off the Dominican national registry and re-entered into the book of foreigners," Huggins said.

Dominicans of Haitians descent represent by far the largest group of people affected by this new law. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people could be affected. 

Dominican authorities have long used various measures to deny Dominicans of Haitian descent their nationality. In 2007, the Central Electoral Board issued a decree which authorized civil registrars around the country to deny Dominicans of Haitian descent renewal of their identity cards and passports, confiscate birth certificates, or declare that their Dominican nationality was “under investigation.”   

In 2010, the Dominican Constitution, which up until then granted citizenship to anyone born on Dominican soil, was changed. Under the new constitution, citizenship is granted only through lineage. Since then Dominican authorities have used this change to justify retroactive denial of nationality.

"CWS will continue to engage in international and local advocacy to address this worrying situation," Huggins said.