La Romana, Dominican Republic

By Ricardo Rojas

“I have no country. What will become of me?” said Dominican-born Blemi Igsema, 27, standing with relatives outside the family’s wooden shack in Batey La Higuera, near La Romana, the heart of the Dominican Republic’s sugar cane industry.

Blemi’s grandparents were Haitian immigrants who came to cut sugar cane decades ago.

“We are Dominicans – we have never been to Haiti. We were born and raised here. We don’t even speak Creole,” she said, referring to Haiti’s native tongue.

I traveled to La Romana after hearing of the Constitutional Court’s decision that bars Dominican-born children of immigrants from acquiring citizenship. Not only does the court change the rules, it was declared to be in effect retroactively all the way back to 1929. It means that the children of tens of thousands of immigrants born outside the Dominican Republic after 1929 will be stripped of their Dominican nationality, as would their grandchildren and great grandchildren. Tens of thousands of formerly legal Dominicans would suddenly become stateless.

Initially, this concerned me as a Chilean citizen with children born in the Dominican Republic. But after checking, I realized that this was a law based on color; it was mainly designed to affect the generations of Haitian descendants in the country. The retroactive nature of the law means that anyone whose parents or grandparents or even great grandparents were “in transit” in the country when they were born, inherit the status of “illegal immigrant” in the country.