Dominican and Haitian
Alejandro Pierre is known as the king of bachata in his neighbourhood, on the outskirts of Santo Domingo. He loves the swaying hip movements of this uniquely Dominican dance.
Pierre was born in the Dominican Republic, as was his mother. But his father was born in neighbouring Haiti, and his maternal grandfather emigrated decades ago to work in the sugarcane fields. Until this week, Pierre's Haitian origins made him ineligible for Dominican citizenship.
A constitutional court ruling eight months ago rendered stateless an estimated 210, 000 people like Pierre, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). Governments and human rights organisations have decried the policy and warned that the ruling could have unforeseen economic consequences.
This week, after intense pressure, Congress passed a law that will regularise children of irregular migrants who have birth certificates and allowing descendants of irregular migrants who never had papers to naturalise.
The law addresses an eight-month legal standoff. In September, the constitutional court legalised actions the Dominican authorities had been making for the past 15 years – arbitrarily and then systematically denying citizenship to descendants of Haitian immigrants.
The court ruled that the plaintiff, a woman born in the republic to Haitian parents, was not Dominican. It also ordered a scan of the civil registry to identify anyone else born to irregular migrants since 1929. The court ruling, which cannot be appealed against, sealed years of deprivations of papers and legal amendments to justify the country's citizenship policies.
The government claimed it was simply addressing longstanding immigration issues and asserting its sovereignty to manage citizenship. "Birthright is not a reason to grant Dominican nationality, " said a staff member at the Central Electoral Board, which manages civil registration. He requested anonymity as he did not have permission to grant interviews.
But researchers have already noted the impact of the ruling. "The deliberate creation of a stateless underclass increases the already formidable risks of exploitation, " said a recent report by the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations. It warned that the ruling could worsen poverty among those affected, because without an identity card people are relegated to informal jobs and have little bargaining power in relations with employers.