“Foreigner” Birth Certificates and Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

By Chelsea Muir

In June of 2015, the island of Hispaniola emerged in the international news cycle when the Dominican government threatened the mass deportation of more than 200,000 people of Haitian descent. This occurred within the context of the Dominican Republic’s long history of endorsing policies designed to restrict migration and the rights of citizenship for people of Haitian descent. Notable among these policies is the utilization of pink “foreigner” birth certificates for infants born to mothers of Haitian descent.

With the passage of the 2004 Ley General de Migración No. 285-04, the Dominican Republic adopted an alternative pink live birth certificate for infants born to “in-transit” parents. Previously, the Dominican Republic issued only one form of live birth certificate: a white document for all children born within its borders. This white live birth certificate conferred eligibility for citizenship to all children except those whose parents were “in-transit.” Before 2004, “in-transit” referred to a temporal limit and applied to anyone residing in the country for 10 days or less. The Ley General expanded the term “in-transit” so that it no longer excluded people on a temporal basis but instead excluded people on the basis of their citizenship status. Anyone who could not prove their Dominican citizenship would be issued a pink, “foreigner” live birth certificate for their child.

One of the principle concerns regarding the pink live birth certificates is the process of discriminately issuing them to Dominicans of Haitian-descent. Hospital administrators have admitted that they use the mother’s “skin color and name” to determine which color of live birth certificate to issue. One mother verified that, despite the fact that she had documentation to prove her Dominican citizenship, the hospital refused to issue a white live birth certificate because she “looked Haitian.”

Although the live birth certificate does not, itself, confer the rights of citizenship, without it one cannot apply for the two documents (acta de nacimiento and cédula) that do confer these rights.

The acta (official birth certificate) confers the full rights of citizenship to minors, and principal among those is the right to education. Children who do not possess an acta may face steep, potentially insurmountable, barriers to attend school. Although the Dominican Constitution affirms free and universal primary and secondary education, the Ministry of Education concurrently mandates that students possess an acta to enroll, to take national matriculation exams, and to graduate. Subsequently, many children who do not possess an acta are “unable to access the education system without significant or even intractable difficulty.”

The Dominican cédula (adult identity card) confers the full rights of citizenship to adults. However, Dominicans who do not possess an acta are ineligible to apply for a cédula. The Dominican government mandates that all adults over the age of 18 obtain a cédula; those that don’t are vulnerable to fines, imprisonment or deportment. Furthermore, without a cédula, Dominican adults are precluded from the full range of political and social rights, including the right to enroll in university, the right to vote, the right to marry, and the right to work in the formal labor market.

Furthermore, with the passage of Ley General, undocumented residents are also unable to declare their children as Dominican citizens. As a result, the law perpetuates the cycle of illegal residency, and potential statelessness, from one generation to the next.

While hospitals deliver the live birth certificates, the Junta Central Electoral (JCE) is the civil registry agency that issues both the acta and cédula. The live birth certificate represents the first, essential rung of this ladder of documents; therefore the hospital’s judgment fundamentally impacts a child’s opportunity for citizenship. This process merits the highest scrutiny, the most professional level of deliberation, and therefore this decision should not be left to the hospital at all. If this decision-making change is implemented, all families will apply for an acta with the same category, the same color, of live birth certificate, and the JCE will have the full jurisdiction to deny or grant the application, without regard for the hospital’s preliminary judgment.

It is important to note that JCE officials also use discriminatory criteria, including  “skin color, racial features and ‘Haitian-sounding names,’” when they are reviewing applications. In the context of prevalent and systemic antihaitianismo, eliminating the pink live birth certificates does not guarantee that all children eligible for an official birth certificate will, in fact, receive one. However, eliminating the pink live birth certificate would effectively end the system that deems children ineligible for citizenship before they leave the hospital.

Chelsea Muir is a first year MPP candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy. Before coming to Berkeley, she worked in Batey Libertad, Dominican Republic.