Eight Years of La Sentencia

Nativism, the political policy of promoting the interests of native inhabitants against those of immigrants, has been on the rise around the world in the past century, resulting in the creation of policies of exclusion against immigrants and individuals who are labeled as different. Usually politicians and groups that support these views do so under the veil of patriotism and nationalism, and fuel them through ideas of economic crisis and competition, but also religious, political and cultural prejudices. Nativism is linked to racism, as it usually materializes the marginalization and oppression of certain groups wrongly believed to be inferior based on a falsely constructed racial hierarchy of society.

Extreme anti-immigrant politicians have not only embraced nativist and nationalist rhetoric, but contributed to a dangerous surge in popularity, by acting upon these sentiments. From Donald Trump’s infamous Muslim ban and separation policies at the border, to Viktor Orban’s reshape of Hungary’s migration policy based on “national security,” the rise of nativism is loud and clear, and it can be found in citizens who seem eager to follow the narrative and find scapegoats, and more worryingly, in racist and nativist legislative efforts.

But nativism, is not only reserved for far-right extremists and anti-immigrant politicians. On the contrary, a surge of nativists and harsh anti-immigrant measures have come from administrations that would be categorized as centrists. Just last week, President Biden’s administration closed part of the Mexican border, and began repatriation flights for Haitians, amid a surge of thousands of Haitian migrants. This was a move that advocates have called “an act of cruelty,” particularly given the ongoing political, economic and environmental disasters in Haiti.

In the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s neighbor, President Luis Abinader announced in February of this year, the building of a wall on the border to keep migrants from crossing to the DR. This has exacerbated an ongoing effort to discriminate and exclude, not only Haitians, but also Dominicans of Haitian descent.

Anti-Haitianism is not new in the DR and it can be traced back to DR’s independence from Haiti in 1844. However, never has this sentiment been as categorical and damaging as on September 23, 2013, when the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic issued Judgment TC 168-13, stripping the citizenship of over 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent, and as a consequence, institutionalizing statelessness. According to this decision, only those who are born to Dominican parents or legal residents are considered to be nationals of the country. To make matters worse, the decision was applied retroactively between 1929 and 2010, arbitrarily depriving thousands of people of Haitian descent of their Dominican nationality. The Court worryingly argued that nationality was not just “a legal bond,” but that it also included “a set of historical, linguistic, racial and geopolitical traits.” Essentially implying that anyone considered “different” for not sharing these traits, is not Dominican, even if they were born and grew up in the country.

Facing mounting pressure and criticism from the international community, the Government tried to address the consequences of the sentence by promulgating Law 169-14, which categories of created people and different paths to a potential solution to their individual situation, which included making some of those stripped from their nationality to register as foreigners (even if they were born in the DR) and apply for naturalization in the future. As was explained in this report, the mechanisms established under Law-16914 have proven to be discriminatory and inefficient, as thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent remain either in a legal limbo, have suffered deportation, or have left voluntarily. By 2018, an estimate of over 80,000 people of Haitian descent were deported back to Haiti.

Just imagine for a moment that the Supreme Court of the United States decided that all American citizens born to undocumented parents are not considered Americans citizens anymore, and therefore their citizenship, and all the rights that derive thereof, must be revoked. The Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic essentially erased birthright citizenship and racially profiled and discriminated against people of Haitian descent.

As Robert F. Kennedy once said: “Every time we turn our heads the other way when we see the law flouted, when we tolerate what we know to be wrong, […] when we fail to speak up and speak out, we strike a blow against freedom and decency and justice.”

The 8th anniversary of the TC 168-13 judgment, is a stark reminder of what can happen when incendiary nativist rhetoric becomes institutionalized, in a country where a significant part of its politicians and citizens rally behind ideals of discrimination against vulnerable populations. It is also a necessary occasion to remember the thousands of Dominicans of Haitian Descent who have been deprived of their legal right to nationality on the account of their ethnicity and origin and have yet to see their full rights restored. And finally, it is an opportunity to redouble efforts to address this blatant violation of human rights.