(Left to right) Luis Barrios, Laura Bignham, moderator, Raymond J. Dowd
(Left to right) Panelists Luis Barrios and Laura Bignham with moderator, Raymond J. Dowd

By Vania Andre

Tiramen Bosico Cofi was born in the Dominican Republic and so were her six children; however only four of them have birth certificates and Dominican citizenship.

Cofi’s determination to get citizenship for her latest child, Violeta, took 12 years. People like her with Haitian heritage are not welcome in neighboring Dominican Republic, despite tracing their Dominican roots for almost a century.

Unable to afford delivering her children at a hospital, Cofi gave birth at the Social Insurance Maternity Clinic and decided she would apply for her daughter Violeta’s official birth certificate at a later date – a common practice in the Dominican Republic at the time of her daughter’s birth in 1986.

When Cofi had scrounged up enough money to make the trip into the city to register Violeta, she went to the Registry Office accompanied by Genaro Rincon Miesse; a legal advisor to Moviemiento de Mujeres Dominico-Haitianas to request late registration for Violeta.

Miesse provided officials with Cofi’s Dominican identification card and Violeta’s birth confirmation issued by the local mayor. Despite having the necessary documents believed to confirm nationality, Cofi’s daughter was denied her Dominican citizenship, with the Registry clerk commenting on Violeta’s “strange” Haitian and “Africanized” last name.

“Dominican-Haitians are struggling not only for legal citizenship, but also for cultural citizenship,” Dr. Samuel Martinez of the University of Connecticut, said. “Dominican authorities want the world to think it’s an immigration issue, but it’s not.”

Martinez was one of four panelists at a seminar looking into the controversial 2013 Dominican court ruling stripping Dominicans of Haitian descent of citizenship. Hosted by the Haitian American Lawyers Association of New York (HALANY), the seminar examined citizenship criteria and the impact of international pressure on a country’s domestic politics.

Panelists Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste and Samuel Martiniez
Panelists Marie-Claude Jean-Baptiste and Samuel Martiniez

Dominican authorities tend to speak of Haitians as an “undifferentiated mass” making no distinction between those born in the country or not. However, according to social researchers, Dominican-Haitians are culturally Dominican and look to obtain legal citizenship in their country of birth.

“We felt that at time the ruling was made, people couldn’t really grasp the implications of the decision because it was in Spanish,” said Ralph DeLouis, chair of HALANY’s board. “It’s been a year since the explosive hearing, and we believe that the dialogue should still continue.”

The 2013 ruling effectively stated that nearly every Dominican of Haitian descent is “in transit,” even though many have lived in the country their entire lives, and in some cases, for four generations.

“In transit is the key term,” Bingham said. “The term makes implicit citizenship denials and directly equates with nonresident or illegal. But, the courts determined you can’t keep someone’s status as in transit indefinitely.”

Typically children are registered within 60 days of their birth; however in shanty makeshift towns like the bateye where Violeta was born, town dwellers often times can’t afford the trip to register their children, Martinez said. “Late registration is often the only way that Dominican-Haitians have of obtaining an official birth certificate.”

Bateyes are poorly-maintained settlements built around sugar cane plantations. There are few basic public services and access to outside resources. Mothers usually give birth at home because of the difficulty travelling from the bateyes to city hospitals, their limited financial resources and fear of deportation over fear of being perceived as a foreigner. In many instances these decisions are made without any prior investigative procedure.

Dark-skinned people are often targeted by immigration officials, Cofi said in a statement to court officials after her daughter was denied citizenship. After a series of court hearings and appeals, Violeta was eventually granted an official birth certificate in 2001.

In 2005 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled she was previously unfairly denied citizenship, setting the precedence that Dominican citizens of Haitian descent should not be deprived of their right to nationality. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights clearly rejected this definition of “in transit” in its 2005 decision in Yean & Bosico v Dominican Republic, DeLouis said. That’s what makes last year’s ruling so controversial. It’s clear that the problem has not gone away.
“Bringing the English translation of the ruling to the public will facilitate a continued and exhaustive conversation about this continued violation.”

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