Dominican Naturalization Law Met With Hope, Skepticism

Haiti's Juan Claudio Castor and his Dominican wife María Castor are fighting what they call “Dominican apartheid” (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario).

Haitian Juan Claudio Castor and his Dominican wife María Castor are fighting what they call “Dominican apartheid.” (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Legal experts and Dominicans living in New York expressed hope as the Dominican Senate Wednesday approved a law to legalize the status of thousands of people of Haitian descent who are currently in legal limbo, El Diario/La Prensa reports.

story by Juan Matossian says that the naturalization law presented by President Danilo Medina seeks to bring a “fair resolution” to a “cycle of irregularities” created by the Constitutional Court’s ruling in September of 2013. The law stripped people born in 1929 or later to undocumented foreign parents of their birthright to Dominican citizenship.

“This is a great advance in our quest for solutions to the problem of respecting the citizenship of people of Haitian descent and to solve the problem of migration in a fair manner,” said Milagros Ricourt, professor of Latin American and Puerto Rican Studies at Lehman College.

According to Ricourt, the international wave of rejection against the judicial decision was decisive in making the government revise the law immediately.

“They are responding to pressure put in by the majority of the Dominican people [who opposed the law], as polls showed, and also by Dominicans outside of the country and the international community. That includes the International Court of Justice, the United Nations and the European Union,” said Prof. Ricourt.

Legal experts from the Dominican Republic also regard the new law as a positive step.

“The initiative fulfills its purpose of modifying an unfair law and corrects the measures that have an impact especially on the Haitian community,” said lawyer Manny Matos, who works for the firm Becker & Poliakoff. Early in his career, Matos represented Haitians seeking asylum in the U.S.

“Our relationship with Haiti is very important to us. Any efforts to legalize immigrants – from here or from there – must be commended,” said the attorney.

According to the story, the law was also applauded by Dominicans living in Washington Heights, which has the largest Dominican population in New York City.

“What they were doing was unacceptable and an injustice,” said César Peña, who left his country 15 years ago. “What I am happiest about is that this shows that Dominicans are really not racist and that we have always felt solidarity with the Haitian people.”

José Santana, born to Dominican parents, said that “if in the U.S., where they are always against immigrants, they allow you to be one of them if you are born here, there is no reason for the Dominican Republic to do any less.”

Another story by Zaira Cortés focuses on activist Juan Claudio Castor, 56, who is proud of his Haitian and Dominican heritage.

A resident of Long Island, Castor was born in Haiti and migrated to the neighboring country in the late ’80s to work with the nonprofit El Buen Samaritano (Good Samaritan). While defending the rights of sugar cane workers, he fell in love with his now-wife, María. Today, they fight together to stop what they consider to be “Dominican apartheid.”

“My wife was a devoted activist. We both fought for decent wages for Dominican and Haitian workers,” said Castor. “Our nationalities did not define our mutual love and admiration.”

Alongside his wife, Castor co-founded a nonprofit called Alas de Igualdad (Wings of Equality) a decade ago. At the moment, the organization is dedicated to assist Dominicans of Haitian descent affected by the law, which Castor considers “21st century apartheid.”

“It is illogical to deny Dominican nationality to people who were born in our homeland,” said María, who was born in the Dominican Republic. “It is inhumane to deport them to a country they do not know.”

In the article, the couple goes on to say that the new naturalization law would be a relief only for Dominicans of Haitian descent who are able to prove that they were born in the Dominican Republic between 1929 and 2007.

According to the law, people born of immigrant parents without a residency permit need to sign up at the civil registry to validate their naturalization.

“But they are still being treated as foreigners in their own country,” said Castor. “Those who do not have a birth certificate will still be denied their right to citizenship. This is discriminatory treatment that allows exclusion to continue to exist.”

Castor, who is studying to get his Ph.D. in Psychology Education, said that he is not questioning the Dominican Republic’s authority to define its immigration laws, but he does condemn the human rights violations that are part of this process.

“Haitian migration to the Dominican Republic did not occur by chance. Dominican entrepreneurs frequently bring Haitians in to work for them as cheap labor,” he said.

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