Locked out: The 12 million people without a country, and the need to become a citizen
The victims of shifting borders, politics, or the happenstance of birthplace, the world's 12 million stateless people and their need to become citizens are rising on the international human rights agenda.
(Page 5 of 5)
Until this year, the Dominican Constitution said that a child was a Dominican citizen if he or she had Dominican parents, or was born on Dominican soil. There were two exceptions, however – the children of diplomats and the children of people "in transit."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
For years, "in transit" meant someone docking in the country's port on a ship, or stopping for a few days' visit. But in the past decade, the courts have changed this description to include migrants – even those who came with valid work permits.
The government increasingly applies this standard retroactively, saying that some children and grandchildren of Haitians should not have gotten Dominican birth certificates in the first place. This year, the government passed a new Constitution that said children of illegal immigrants were not citizens.
The move is similar to what some activists and legislators in Arizona would like to see as an extension of the state's controversial new immigration laws – and a warning of how complicated such a stance can be.
Activists estimate that tens of thousands of people are finding themselves in Camilise's situation. And this, they say, has consequences for education (teenagers can't go to college), health care (already HIV rates in the bateyes are among the worst in the Western Hemisphere, and activists worry about "survival sex" and access to medicine), and poverty levels (without documents, a person can't be legally employed). Some also worry about an increase in human trafficking, prostitution, and other forms of exploitation.
"Citizenship rights are fundamental to being able to access everything," says Rachel Aicher of the Open Society Institute, who has worked on statelessness cases in the Dominican Republic. "State services are dependent on producing identification."
If you have no country, nobody is providing you services and nobody is protecting your rights.
In Batey Esperanza, a neighborhood about an hour's drive from the sprawling capital of Santo Domingo, almost every cinder-block house has a story about statelessness.
Yuly Paredes says he had to leave his semiprofessional baseball program because the Dominican government wouldn't give him a birth certificate, without which he would never get a contract with the American teams who scout here. Louis Michel, a 75-year-old who says he came here legally from Haiti to cut sugar cane in 1979, says his Dominican-born grandchildren are now unable to go to college. Altagracia José, who was born in the Dominican Republic, points to her teenage daughter, who is pregnant, and says that the girl had to leave school because she had no papers.
"You know what happens to a young girl who is pregnant – if she can't go to school, she gets a man," she says. "And then another man. And the boys, they have no future. They turn delinquent."
Ms. José says that now she, too, cannot get copies of her papers, which keeps her from obtaining legal employment.
"I cried when they told me I was not Dominican," she says.
"I cannot choose another country. I've never been to Haiti – I am no more Haitian than I am Puerto Rican, or American. If I am stateless, I am nobody."
• Travel for this article was funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.