Aníbal de Castro, the Dominican Republic’s ambassador to the United States, said on Monday that if the U.S. chose to deny citizenship to children born of undocumented Dominican immigrants, he would respect the decision.
In September, a court in the Dominican Republic ruled that children born to undocumented Haitian immigrants would not be eligible for citizenship.
“The question is, how would you react if they would do exactly the same here, the same thing here in the United States to Dominican immigrants? Would that be OK?” Fusion’s Jorge Ramos asked de Castro.
“Well, if that’s the decision by an American Supreme Court, I would have to respect it,” de Castro said.
An estimated 200,000 people living in the Dominican Republic have Haitian parentage, and international human rights groups have expressed alarm that many of those people could find their citizenship in jeopardy because of the ruling.
The ruling is starting for its scope, but perhaps less so for its tone.
While Haiti and the Dominican Republic share a single island — known as Hispaniola — there have been long-standing tensions when it comes to Haitian immigrants living in the DR.
Many Haitian immigrants work in low-income jobs in the Dominican Republic, including on the country’s sugar plantations. Those workers are often segregated in shantytowns known as “bateys.”
Historian Edward Paulino told The New York Times in October that part of the reason for the uncomfortable relationship between Haitian and Dominicans is that Haiti is a country that chose to embrace its history of revolt against slavery. Dominicans, on the other hand, more strongly identified with Spanish colonizers.
“The Dominican Republic is at a crossroads right now over the question, ‘What does it mean to be Dominican in the 21st century?’ ” Paulino said. “It is a country of immigrants, but no other group is like the Haitians, which arrived with the cultural baggage of a history of black pride in a country that chose to identify with the European elite.”
De Castro said on Monday that the decision was actually a way for Dominican authorities to give legal status to undocumented Haitian immigrants.
“I think they opened the door for the regulation of all the foreigners living in the country,” de Castro said. “They will be treated in a humanitarian way, they will be given the opportunity to have a regular status in the country, and later, if they want they could go for the Dominican citizenship. I think this is a unique case in the world, I don’t think that many countries in the world are doing that. Trying to give a solution for the undocumented foreign population in their territories.”
Ben Fox, an Associated Press reporter who has covered the story, said that the ruling could still cause problems for Haitian immigrants.
“I think the concern here, shared by a lot of people, is how this ruling is being interpreted on the ground, not necessarily at the ambassador’s level,” Fox responded. “I think that there are consistent reports coming out of people saying that they’re being denied papers by bureaucrats in office, and they’re being detained by soldiers in bus stations who are interpreting the law as they go.”
Ramos asked Fox whether the ruling would make it more difficult for people of Haitian descent to live in the Dominican Republic.
“It seems that we’re seeing that now,” he replied.