by Denisse Gayosso-Lucano
Imagine if everyone who couldn’t prove their family’s citizenship back to 1929 were denied basic services and in danger of deportation. This is the reality for around 200,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent, who have lived in the DR all their lives but suffer second-class treatment with no legal way to work, attend school or even buy a cell phone plan.
As part of the Cornell-CUSLAR Global Health Program in the Dominican Republic last summer, I was fortunate to watch a new documentary by Juan Carlos Gonzalez Diaz called “Hasta la Raíz,” which tells the stories of many young people struggling for their right to citizenship.
Several of the film’s protagonists, led by activist Ana María Belique, presented the film to our cohort at a batey, a town originally built for sugarcane workers in the 1950s and still without running water or plumbing. This documentary was eye-opening, as it exposes harsh discrimination in the Dominican Republic. It made our group reflect on similar issues in the U.S., with regard to the U.S. government’s revocation of DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, in September.
“Hasta la Raíz” portrays the injustices that Belique and other Dominicans of Haitian descent have been suffering from the revocation of their birthright citizenship in the Dominican Republic. Many, like her, have parents who migrated to the Dominican Republic. They migrated when they were recruited to work in the sugarcane fields after the United States occupied Haiti and the Dominican Republic in 1916, and through binational agreements throughout the 20th century. Belique said, “our parents have given their lives, their strength and all their blood in the Dominican sugarcane plantation, and today many of them are seen as rejects of this society that need to be thrown in the garbage.”
The Dominican Central Electoral Board has been withholding birth certificates since the 1990s for arbitrary reasons. Even after a law was passed in 2015 that allowed Dominicans of Haitian descent to gain temporary work permits and stay in the Dominican Republic, most of the permits have now been allowed to expire with no next steps in place.
The documentary’s many voices say these rulings are a result of racism, nationalism, discrimination and an irrational fear of “Haitian invasion.” Calling immigration from a neighboring country an “invasion” seems overblown, however, since only 6.87 percent of the Dominican population is composed of Dominicans of Haitian descent, according to journalist Allyn Gaestel.
Without citizenship status, one can’t study, work, travel or access the health system. The film argues, convincingly, that withholding citizenship is the equivalent to civil genocide.
Belique fights for herself and the rights of people in her situation: she says there shouldn’t be a need to justify that you’re Dominican if you were born and raised in the Dominican Republic.
A similar trend to what is happening in the Dominican Republic is visible in the U.S. It is equally inhumane is to have DACA students have their status revoked and again have to worry about having no housing, savings, income, healthcare, security and education. This should be viewed as a crime, to put innocent human beings in despair. Immigrants, documented or not, are not a threat to homeland security; the real threat is the extending polarization that continues to promote hatred, prejudice, racism, inhumanity, and cruelty over unity, dialogue, understanding and love.
Denisse Gayosso-Lucano is a senior
at Cornell University who participated in the Global Health Program in DR in 2017.